Church of England Diocese of Leicester Burbage with Aston Flamville

Thought for the day - Wednesday 6th January

6 Jan 2021, 10 a.m.

Epiphany & Star of Bethlehem

Epiphany is a Greek word meaning ‘manifestation’ or ‘theophany’ that derives from a natural theology religion that discerns manifestations of the eternal or divine present in all things.

In our worship we celebrate the feast of Epiphany as the day when a Star led the Magi (Wise Men or Kings) from the East, probably Persia, East Syria or Arabia, to the child Jesus. The three Magi (Casper, Balthasar and Melchior) were by all accounts religious scholars who were revered as astronomers and astrologers. As such, they studied the stars and planets and interpreted the meaning of dreams and various cosmic events. Anything unusual that appeared in the heavens such as a bright star, comet, meteor, supernova or a planetary conjunction would have been considered as an omen. Such a sighting in the sky would have incited ‘dread and fear’ in the minds of many rather than a symbol of wonder and hope. Most in those days believed that human destiny was written in the stars and that heavenly bodies played a major role in earthly affairs, perhaps not unlike some today who organise their lives around their star signs.

The Star, however, was not the only indication of the coming of Christ. In the Old Testament (e.g. Numbers 24:17) the scriptures foretold of One who was to come. His redemptive destiny had been written in the stars long before the Magi ever made their long journey to Bethlehem.

But was the Star a fable or a miracle? Many tend to think the story of the Star was a fable, a literary device, used by Matthew (2:1-12) to convey a light of hope in his gospel.

Ancient cultures had differing interpretations for stars, especially shooting stars, that were believed in e.g. ancient China, to mark the birth of an important child, whose soul was descending from heaven to earth, where it would come to life. Star worship was common and many offered a sacrifice to ‘his’ or ‘her’ star or lucky stars.

But what does this biblical Star mean for us and how does the story call us? The event of the Epiphany invites us to bring ourselves just as we are to serve and worship God through Christ as ‘the bright morning star’ (Revelation 22:16). We are not required to bring ourselves bearing such symbolic expensive gifts as gold, frankincense and myrrh as the Magi did. Gold signified the kingship of Christ, frankincense or incense his divinity, and myrrh his redemptive suffering or virtue or prayer and suffering (Isaiah 60: 6, 11 and Psalm 72:10-11).

Some early Christians were scandalised by this section of Matthew’s gospel because the role of the star was considered as favouring astrology beliefs. However, Matthew shows no interest in this problem because the star is used to serve God’s purpose by leading the Magi to Jesus.

Let me conclude by offering a few words from Colin Goodman, one of our readers at St Catherine’s church. He was a very much respected reader and preacher and was a science teacher at Hastings High School in Burbage. He published a booklet of his sermons collectively entitled An unpredictable God. In one of those sermons he reflected on the event of the Epiphany, saying, “What lies beyond question is the inspiration that this story [the Epiphany] has given to the worship of the Church throughout all ages. In liturgy, poetry, music, and works of art the Epiphany has been set forth in matchless beauty and the Wise Men {Magi} have been a constant source of inspiration to all who wish to venture on a journey of faith”.

Whatever we make or believe about this Star as a fact or fable used by Matthew to convey light and hope for all, it should be for us a Star of wonder and hope to inspire journeys of faith in and towards Christ, the Word made flesh.

God bless,

Fr Graham