Newsletter for Sunday 7 January 2024

5 Jan

“We have Seen His Star in the East”

With this being the first newsletter of 2024, on behalf of Fr David and myself, may I wish you a very happy New Year! Today is the Solemnity of the Epiphany when we celebrate the three wise men from the East coming to worship the Child JESUS, bringing Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is a continuation of our celebration of the birth of our Divine Saviour, God made man. Up until this point His birth had been revealed only to Israel. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and the shepherds tending their flocks in the field had been told by the Angel of Our Lord’s birth and that they should seek Him out. They were all Jews of course. But God didn’t only come for the people of Israel. He came for the whole of mankind. This truth is represented today by the coming of the Magi.

So who were the Magi? They were pagan kings and astrologers who could never have come to know the True God without what we call the divine condescension (God becoming man). We might wonder how they could have known of the birth of our Saviour by means of a star. St John Chrysostom (ca 349-407) gives us an answer in his Sermon for the Epiphany:

“We read in the books of Moses that there was a certain prophet of the Gentiles, Balaam, who foretold in definite words the coming of Christ and His incarnation from a virgin. For among other things he said: A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel (Numbers 24:17). The Wise men, who saw the new star in the East, are said to be descendants of this Balaam, a prophet from the Gentiles. And seeing the sign of the new star they accordingly believed, knowing that the prophecy of their ancestor was fulfilled.”

However, this was no normal star. It was something entirely supernatural. It appeared on the night of Our Lord’s birth and then promptly disappeared again after the arrival of the Magi. It moved with them and rested exactly over the house where the newborn Child was. Normal stars do not do this. The star was also extraordinarily bright, and although smaller than a normal star, it appeared bigger as it was closer to the earth. These peculiarities are all in the Gospel account. Therefore it seems attempts to explain the star scientifically are rather pointless, since God put it there simply so as the Magi would know the location of the newborn King. The closest parallel we have, according to St Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), is the pillar of fire and cloud which led Israel out of Egypt in the Old Testament. Just as God had liberated His people Israel from slavery in Egypt through the pillar of fire and cloud, He has now liberated the Gentiles from slavery to sin by the guidance of this star. As we sing in the well known Christmas carol: “Oh, star of wonder, star of might. Star with royal beauty bright. Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light.”

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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