This coming weekend, we celebrate the feast of Epiphany. Epiphany recalls the journey of three Magi who sought to find a newborn king, based on their understanding of the heavens. The drama behind this feast is to realize that they were not the only ones who were seeking Jesus. Herod, too, wanted to learn of the whereabouts of this infant king, but for very different reasons as did the Magi: To eliminate a threat to his power. In another narrative from the Gospel of Luke, the Shepherds, representing the poor and the marginalized, are seeking out this gift from God after being serenaded by the heavenly hosts. Their motive, apart from the vision they received, is unclear. Perhaps, it was out of simple curiosity that they trusted what they had learned from their mystical experience. In the background of these narratives is the long standing hope of the Children of Israel, waiting for a promised Messiah. Some, at that time, hoped for a military ruler, seeking to eliminate an occupying force. Instead, Christ’s battle cry was “love your enemies” and found examples of faith in the oppressor.
When we take these narratives as a whole, what we discover is a dynamic tension in which everything, both carnal and incorporeal, was pointing humanity to a cave, a child, his mother, his foster father, and the feeding trough in which the infant lay. All people from the known world, Jewish and Gentile, rich and poor, kings and peasants, women and men, were looking, yearning to find the source of truth, goodness, and beauty. And when this source was found, it was wrapped in swaddling clothes, innocent, defenseless, born into poverty, and protected only by, what must have been apparent to both Mary and Joseph, the grace of God.
Often times, people will ask the question at Christmas, “Was the star of Bethlehem real?” Others far brighter than I who have studied this matter more intently can take care of that question. The question I find more interesting is this: What happened approximately 2,020 years ago that so changed the course of human history that even the way we measure the passing of time was altered? Was the star real? Perhaps the more intriguing question to ask is whether or not “The Light” came into the “darkness,” ending the perpetual Advent of those who yearned to see their hopes fulfilled? And when that light came, it brought about a new dawn, a “New Star” of hope in the lives of those who trusted in God, those who did not trust in God, those who studied the natural world, and those who were serenaded by the divine. Put simply, “Did God meet his people in the person of Jesus Christ?” This question has a little more teeth to it than simply going through old star charts and compiling theories about what was in the night sky at the time we think Jesus might have been born. This question ask us: Has our hope dawned?
A nice video of Brother Guy exploring different theories of “The Star of Bethlehem.”
Obviously, this question goes beyond the limits of science and points to a clear “leap of faith.” I have made that leap of faith, others haven’t. However, to treat faith in such a pithy manner seems to be inadequate. For example, I have faith that Jesus Christ is my Savior, but I would not call that faith blind, unintelligent, unstudied, or divorced from natural reason (including the sciences). My faith has gone through times of profound light and darkness, ascent and doubt, consolation and desolation, but the end result has always lead me, no matter how “strong” or “weak” my belief has been, to profess one, noble truth: Jesus Christ is Lord – Who is the way, the truth, and the life!
To explore this further, let us reflect upon the question posed by Pontius Pilate to Jesus: What is truth? The question of truth is something our world wrestles with to this very day. For some, truth is simple, resisting questions that could cast doubt upon what is presumed to be fact. For others, truth is illusive, allowing questions to multiply, deconstructing the thin fabric of childhood innocence that once wrapped them as a blanket, but now exposes the soul to the “cold and chill” of doubt. For others, truth is an adventure, willing to take both the doubts and the protective “garments” of our innocence to seek clarity, exploring the most elemental questions of human experience. For some, this journey leads them to complex philosophical abstractions, creating a fascinating, yet complicated web of reasonable arguments for truth. Others give up the pursuit, finding the road frustrating and cumbersome, presuming that there is no end to the road and become complacent, presuming truth cannot be achieved. For the Christian, all of these reflections can be present in their lives, but there is one additional dimension unique to Christianity that transforms our lives: Truth is found in an infant who is far more than an infant. On this feast of the Epiphany, truth is found in Jesus Christ and, in this discovery, we receive an invitation to do far more than accept a chain of rational arguments to prove that something exists. We are invited to enter a new journey in which we find truth, goodness, beauty, faith, hope, and love through a relationship that transcends any type of human bond we can imagine. We are called to find a relationship that is like a well of water that never runs dry, a drink from that well which never leaves us thirsty, bread that feeds us in a way that never leaves us hungry, and a bond of love whose permanence transcends this world and binds us to an eternal love that can only come from the source of all things.
Bishop Robert Barron reflecting on Christmas.
In short, one of the ways to approach the feast of the Epiphany is to see that every aspect of creation is pointing to the coming of the source and summit of all creation. Whether it be Natural Reason or Divine Revelation, all of the avenues of truth at the time of Jesus’ birth pointed to the source of all truth. These two “wings” that allow our soul to ascend to God remind us that this journey is not limited to an elite class of people, but is accessible to everyone, according to his or her ability, to enter into a relationship with the source of truth. Therefore, whether you’re a “Magi” who seeks for truth through natural reason, a “Shepherd” who is responding to a call from beyond, or a little bit of both, we all find ourselves on a journey, traveling different paths, leading to the same end: The God who is our Source and Summit.
Reflection: How do you come to truth? Are you more of a “Magi,” gravitating toward natural reason? Are you a “Shepherd” who is compelled by Divine Revelation? Or are you a little bit of both? Let us remember as we celebrate Epiphany that our faith calls us to embrace the fact that both faith and reason are necessary for the soul to ascend to God. And in that ascent, my we come to know the source of our journey as we continue to celebrate the feast of the Incarnation.