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Have you seen his star rising in the East
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This weekend many Christians celebrate Epiphany.

Marking the journey of the astrologers to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-12), this feast highlights the call to step out in faith and the wonder of discovery: “…The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a stand-still over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, found the child with Mary his mother.

“They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their coffers and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

We sing of “three kings”, a popular assumption based scripturally on Psalm 72, among other biblical passages.  “…The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.  All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.” (verses 10, 11)

The gifts worthy of a king and of a deity were foretold by Isaiah: “All from Sheba shall come, bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60:6)  As for the other extremely valuable commodity of the ancient Near East - myrrh - the Wise Men were no doubt inspired to include this gift as a sign that Christ would offer his life for our redemption.

For though myrrh was used as incense, as a perfuming agent, and as an antiseptic, its primary purpose was to prepare the dead for burial.  

In fact, all four gospels relate how Joseph of Arimathea, a dissenting member of the Jewish Sanhedrin council which had condemned Jesus to death, took the enormous risk of obtaining Jesus’ body from Pilate.

Together with Nicodemus, another council member, Joseph made sure that the body was properly prepared for burial: “…bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes which weighed about a hundred pounds... They took Jesus’ body, and in accordance with Jewish burial custom bound it up in wrappings of cloth with perfumed oils.”  (John 19:38-40)  The expense was astronomical.

The Astrologers, in their prophetic way, revealed to the world exactly who this mysterious Child was, was to be, and would be forever.  We honor them for making the long journey and for bringing the very best they had to offer, but the real message they left us was all about Jesus.  King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Lamb of God, he’d come from heaven to bring us life.

When they had fulfilled their mission, they immediately returned to their homelands.  Having obeyed the light they received, they no longer needed to search the stars.  They now carried in their hearts the Light of the World.

For us, they stand forever as a challenge to everyone:  We all need to be vigilant, to keep our eyes fixed on the things of heaven, to study the light we receive and to follow whatever guidance the Lord may grant.  We will have to leave much behind that has been dear to us.  We may never make the return-journey to the places we called “home”.  Or, on returning to the land from which we had begun, we may well find ourselves transformed.  

Yet if we persevere in the pilgrimage of faith, we’re certain to arrive in the place where Jesus has been waiting for us so patiently.  We will surely find our Savior.   Recognizing Him as our God, we will bow in adoration.

It’s both remarkable and depressing to consider that, after so many centuries of urgent longing and eager expectation for the birth of the Messiah, so few contemporaries took notice of the event.  John lamented this in his Prologue: “He came unto his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:11)  
You can count the people who paid homage to the newborn King on two hands: first, a small group of shepherds.  Then, an elderly pair in the temple (Simeon and Anna).  Finally, the three astrologers.  What did these seemingly unrelated characters have in common, that they should constitute the only witnesses to the most important birth of all history?  The answer is obvious.

While the witnesses who would later give testimony to the Incarnation of the Eternal Word differed greatly in age, religious background, ethnic and national origins, educational and economic status, and motives for coming, they had one essential characteristic in common: they held their vigil in the dark.

Isaiah had prophesied seven hundred years before: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in a land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing.

“…For unto us a child is born; a son is given; upon his shoulder dominion rests.  They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace…The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this!” (Isaiah 9:1-6)

Yet only those who maintained vigil, who sought the light in the midst of surrounding darkness - whether under the night skies, as with the Shepherds and the Magi, or in the Temple, as with Simeon and Anna the Prophetess (Luke 2:25-38) - were able to receive the Good News and to recognize the Messiah when finally he came.  The rest of the world remained in darkness.

The question we must ask ourselves is, “Am I vigilant?” That is, are we keeping watch in the extended night for the light which only God can give? Have we recognized God’s glory shining on the face of Christ before us?

 Or have we accustomed ourselves to the darkness and to lights that deceive?