Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Yr A, 2023
A recent blessing in my life has been sharing my love of stars with one of my nephews. He has just discovered the beauty of the heavens, including the different type of stars and their life-cycles. Recently, we were chatting about this, and I explained that there was a further step in the life-cycle of the universe: that inside every human person were the remnants of stars in the forms of various elements. That it looks like the universe is a big kitchen designed to cook up life. It was an absolute treat to watch his face as he tried to digest this piece of information. That the amazing things up there were somehow part of him.
Perhaps this wonder and its effect gives us a way into our gospel today. That the experience of wonder, the experience of seeing something glorious, the desire to learn more or chase after something beautiful, is in some sense fundamentally a hint at the truth that lies at the heart of the universe, the very reason for creation. That such moments that make our heart soar are at their root clues that communion is the truth, communion between God and humanity.
Perhaps we all have something in our life that has acted as a star. I don’t mean something that we have purchased or captured easily. I mean like the star for the Magi. Something that required effort, a long journey, a real pilgrimage. An effort that made us question, that made us reach out for help, that stretched us. A star that gradually prepared us for its reception. Or more profoundly prepared us for something greater. A main meal that turned out to be an appetiser that just made us more hungry.
Perhaps you already know this, but the story of the Magi in Matthew and the story of the shepherds in Luke are very similar. A star which is a symbol of the heavenly realm informs the Magi that King of the Jews is to be born, and an angel and the heavenly army inform the shepherds of the same.
When we look at the story of the shepherds, we see something remarkable. Something that perhaps the Magi did not see. The shepherds are told to look for a child lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. These are symbols of the Passion. Jesus is in a manger, in a feeding trough for animals. More than the prodigal son, who wished to feed himself on the husks that the pigs were being fed, Jesus is that food. Likewise, he is wrapped in swaddling clothes, clothes that point to his burial garments, the point to his death, but as we know also point to his resurrection, when the garments are laid aside.
Therefore, we know that the secret of the universe is not that chasing after things brings us to true communion. It is that the very chase itself is God chasing after us. All the stars in the heavens, all the angelic realm, all the powers of the universe, look down at a child who looks up at us.
Here we see the invitation built into reality. That the glory of God is hidden not so that we cannot find it, but precisely so that we will go looking for it. That God through grace withdraws so that we might chase. Becomes weak so that we might become strong. Becomes poor so that we might become generous. Becomes vulnerable so that we might become responsible.
Every moment now must be understood this way: the hound of heaven chasing after us; ceaselessly chasing after us that we might chase after him; and in chasing have our hearts stretched, stretched so far that we might become suitable dwelling places for him.
Now perhaps the Magi did see the child in a manger, but what we know for sure, is that they saw the true temple, the one whose heart was stretched, the one whose hunger could only be satisfied by God. They saw the child with Mary his Mother.
Last week, we celebrated the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. Perhaps today we might celebrate Mary the Morning Star. She is the one who constantly leads us on, but never allows us to stop at her. She constantly reflects God’s glory, constantly indicating her Son, the true light of the world.
Let’s pray today that we know the true quest, the true hunger of our lives. May we recognise communion with God as the real meaning of life. May we like the kings offer to the king – the gift of our lives, lives that include the very stuff of stars.
And as God reveals Godself to us, may we as the Body of Christ join in this wondrous proclamation, so that our brothers and sisters may know this joy as well, the joy of knowing for what we are made, to where we are heading, and how far God has come to be with us.