Father Stephen’s Homily for The Solemnity of the Epiphany:
‘And by the light of that same star, Three Wise Men came from country far, To seek for a king was their intent, And to follow the star wheresoever it went.’ (The First Nowell)
Who were these men? St Mathew simply says they came from the East, or the Land of Sunrise and they were termed ‘Wise Men’ or ‘Magoi’ in the Greek. This title is mainly found away from the Bible. It is usually applied to Zoroastrian priests of early religions of Western Iran. The Greek historian Herodotus used the name 400 years before Christ, when Zorostrianism was the dominant religion of the area and deep into alchemy, astrology and other form of esoteric knowledge. The term ‘magic’ comes from Magus.
But there is no suggestion in the Gospel that these Wise Men who came to the manger men were anything other than genuine scientists, astronomers and intellectuals. They were fascinated by the powerful star, which astronomers confirm as historical fact, and which occurred in 6 BC, when the planets Jupiter and Saturn came very close together, giving off a tremendous light. That date is now agreed almost all commentators, to be the year of Jesus’s birth.
These academic astronomers sought not just the ruler of the world whom rumour and Sacred Scripture said would appear from Judah. As philosophers, they sought also answers to the human predicament. Why are we here? Who and what is God?
The Wise men represent you and me and the whole of humanity, for deep inside each one of us is an aching soul that longs to find fulfilment and peace. The journey of the Magi speaks then of our instinctive search for the God, without whom our hearts are restless, as St Augustine famously said. Whatever the age, culture, civilisation, nation; people are always searching for God, whether they are really aware of this yearning, or not. Everyone searches for the answers to life after death, for truth, for something which gives their lives meaning and peace.
They look for fulfilment in a dry January, in the gym perhaps; in diets of every kind. And yet they cannot find what they seek, because whatever good we seek for our bodies, it is our souls which long for nourishment.
The Magi found what they had journeyed for, but not what they envisaged.They found God, but not the God of power and might that they expected. They found a helpless, vulnerable infant, but in that manifestation (or Epiphany) they recognised holiness; they instinctively recognised God, whom their souls sought. At the manger, their values were turned over. Their lives began all over again, for using the words of TS Eliot in his great poem The Journey of the Magi, ‘We returned to our places, these kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with alien people clutching their gods.
We, too, on this great Solemnity, rejoice once again at the Nativity scene. And, at the start of a New Year, we can fall down before the Christ child, and present those gifts which we have:
Our Gold: the talents which all of us have; the gifts, the drive inherent within us to make the immediate world around us, a better place. Our Frankincense: our souls, our intellects, our spirituality, the unspoken language of our worship. All of these we offer for God to take over. Our myrrh: the perfume of burial, so our mortality, our lives. But also the oil of our consecration as Christians which we received at our baptism, and confirmation.
We, also, return to routine life, as the Christmas season draws to a close, ‘no longer at ease here in the old dispensation’.
The Christ child calls us to relook at our lives.