Thoughts on the Gospel for Epiphany

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His Star

             We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.                                                                  Matthew 2:2

         He determines the number of the stars; He giveth them all their names. Psalm 146:4

The stars shone in their watches and
were glad;
He called them, and they said
“Here we are!”
They shone with gladness for Him
who made them.
Baruch 3:34

The wisemen from the East could not have found the newborn king had not the heavens, His star,  led them to the stable in Bethlehem. Various naturalistic attempts have been made to identify His star, none quite convincing.   For the Greeks and Romans the heavens were a place of divinity and mystery, from which the gods might speak, and central to this view was the conviction that nature, stars being nature’s crown, were alive, as in the texts superscript.  For Plato the stars were visible gods. For the Hebrews they were angels, as with the angels of the Churches in Revelation. When probes went into the heavens it was reported that the stars were flaming rocks. That of course is what they are made of, but this observation offers no more satisfactory definition than would a biological description of any person, his height and weight, the composition of his flesh and  bones, tell who that person is that breathes and loves and hopes. So perhaps the Hebrews and the Greeks were right; the stars may be angelic presences. 

            In any event Scripture testifies that nature is alive, and it was essential that the birth of Jesus be announced by His star.  For given the truth that all things were made by the Word, that all things exist in Him, the story would not have been true had nature not confessed Christ in the presence of His star. The nearly universal intuition that nature should acknowledge its creator lies behind the quite non-canonical inclusion of the ox and donkey looking adoringly at the Christ child.  

We know the beasts only as silent, but we also know that this silence will be broken.  For in the age to come nature will sing; the ox. the eagle, the man-like animal, and the lion, all will sing endlessly, day and night,  “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory” (Revelation 4:9). And in that day, when nature is healed of the curse brought upon it by sin, says bishop  Papias of Hierapolis, each vine shall have a thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes. “And when any of the saints shall have taken hold of a cluster, another shall cry, ‘I am a better cluster; take me, bless the Lord through me.’” 

The last three psalms, 148–150, have as their subject the praise nature gives to God, 

                Praise Him, sun and moon,
                          Praise Him all you shining stars!
                Praise Him, you highest heavens
                           And you waters above the heavens.
                Let them praise the name of the Lord (148:3-4)

           And even when nature is silent it witnesses God’s glory:

                The heavens are telling the glory of God;
                          And the firmament proclaims His handiwork.
                Day to day pours forth speech,
                            And night to night declares knowledge.
                There is no speech, nor are there words;
                            Their voice is not heard
                Yet their voice goes out through the earth,
                            And their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:3-4).

           So beautiful is nature, so impressive  its regularity, so compelling its fecundity, so immediate and pressing is its presence upon us and in us, that men have always been tempted to worship nature.   The present form of that worship is not a formal idolatry such as Jeremiah condemned when he prophesied that at the last day the bones of those who have worshipped sun and moon would be brought out of their tombs and spread before the host of heaven “which they have sought and worshipped; they shall not be gathered or buried, they shall be as dung on the face of the ground” (8:2).  

          In the post-modern world, it is rather the naturalism of the philosophers that while it does not burn incense to the sun and moon, commits idolatry by considering nature as we find it to be the sum and source of reality while taking lightly or even purposefully neglecting the universal testimony that nature itself attests to supernature.   As Paul says, we have evidence enough; God’s “eternal power and deity has been perceived in the things that have been made.” Those who “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling man” he abandons to their own willfulness, and finally, having “exchanged the truth about God for a lie, they finally “worship and serve the creature rather than the creator” (Romans 1:20-23).  A philosopher or scientist who considers nature as we find it the sum of reality, who thereby worships the creature, need not journey to Stonehenge at the winter solstice to worship nature. By presenting what we can see and touch as the self-referential sum of reality he is no less an idolater, unwitting though his worship be, than the ancient Hebrews who made offerings to the moon.   

          Whoever the Magi were they were wise; whatever their sources and methods, they knew that nature spoke and they listened.  So they saw His star in the east and followed it until it shone above the stable in which lay Him through whom the worlds were made.

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