Happy Epiphany, 2020!

(George) Valentine Sandberg, shamelessly pinched from here

For those of us on an academic schedule, it's back to the races this morning. May you find what you are seeking in 2020! Perhaps the example of the Magi will help. 

Meditating on the reading for the feast of Epiphany this year (Mt 2:1-12), I noticed something I don't recall noticing before. We tend to think of the Magi as "following the star," in the sense of seeing it. In fact, Matthew doesn't say that. He says they see the star "at its rising" and then seemingly not again (or at least only sporadically? I don't understand enough astronomy to know what "at its rising" means) until right after their meeting with Herod, when we are told: 
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.
It seems stupid of me not to have noticed this before, and it answers a lot of questions, such as why other people weren't also following the star, and why the Magi needed to ask for directions in Jerusalem instead of just following it as they had been doing all along. It seems I've been letting Christmas cards and carols override what scripture actually says. In fact, it was not "by the light of that same star" that "three wisemen came from country far," but by the light of faith and hope and their own calculations based on something seen once for a time. (Left unanswered is just what they were seeing that would have led them to a specific place. In what sense does a "star" rest over a cave?) 

This reflection recalled to my mind the promise of God to Abraham, when He had Abraham look up into the bright noon sky and try to number the stars. 

At any rate, the Magi seem able to go only so far based on prophecy, faith, and reason, and eventually have to ask for help. They get as far as Jerusalem on their own, but to get to Bethlehem requires the aid of the priests and scribes. 

It is interesting that the priests and scribes knew the newborn king would be found in Bethlehem, or at least could find the answer upon searching the scriptures. But apparently they did not notice the special star at its rising, and felt no impulse to find the fulfillment of prophecy themselves. As Jesus will say later, in Mt 23, practice what they tell you, but don't follow their example, because they don't practice what they preach.  Perhaps here we see a danger of taking "religion" as your profession. You can know everything about it while ceasing to be a genuine disciple. The Magi announce that they have seen the star of the prophesied king and "come to worship." The religion professionals know just where he is to be found, but seem to have lost the impulse to worship. The Magi seem to have something to tell us about what it means to "keep watch," the nature of seeking in this life, the nature of priests and scribes, and perhaps the loneliness of discipleship. Perhaps Herod has something to teach us too: namely, to be wary when the state takes an interest in religion. 

I like to think about the excitement and delight that would have filled the kings upon seeing the star again at long last -- and then to find Jesus! The feast traditionally celebrates not only this first manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, but also other moments of "manifestation" -- the Presentation, the Baptism, the Wedding at Cana.  It seems at times in the spiritual life we are granted little flashes of insight into Who Jesus is, and we have to take those experiences deep within us and cling to them, because in a flash they are gone again and we have to go home and live by what we have seen without having it in front of us any longer. Having experienced the Epiphany, the Magi had to go Home by Another Way

Update: Homily of Pope Francis for Epiphany