The Legacy of the Wise Men

January 5, 2020

Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” of this Sunday’s (January 5) Bulletin at Fishkill UMC. We will be focusing on Epiphany of the Lord (Year A). Services start at 10:15 am and you are welcome to be a part of a new year of worship.

As you may know, I am a chemist and a science educator.  If you were to trace the lineage of my profession backwards in time, sooner or later you would end in some obscure laboratory in 17th century Europe.  More importantly, if you continued the travel back in time, you would also end up in an equally obscure laboratory outside 16th century Baghdad.

The wise men are the intellectual ancestors of today’s mathematicians and scientists.  While we call what they did alchemy, it was still a study of matter and its reactions, the basic definition of chemistry.  The driving force behind these studies was to gain a better understand of who God was and what God was doing.  It should be noted that Robert Boyle, considered the father of modern chemistry, was also a prolific writer of religious manuscripts and Sir Isaac Newton, in the preface to his most famous work, Principia Mathematica, wrote that he hoped that what he presented would lead the reader to a better understanding of God.

Did not Jesus, when asked if He was the expected Messiah, tell the questioners to look at the evidence before them?

The evidence before me tells me that the universe is not quite 14 billion years old and not, as determined by some quirky and faulty calculations, 10,000 years old.  But the evidence does not tell me why it was created.

If nothing else, that I am both a Christian and a scientist dispels the notion that one cannot be both or that one must sacrifice one for the other.  When I look at the processes of creation, I can understand how it occurred but it is though my faith that I begin to understand why it was created.

And in doing so, I continue the legacy of Boyle and Newton and those who saw the Star in the East and sought to understand the meaning of what they saw.

In including the wise men in the Christmas narrative, Matthew suggested that, like the wise men, we must seek our understanding of God.  In looking at the world around us, in trying to understand the world around us, we can better understand who God is and what our relationship to Him through Christ might be.

~~Dr. Tony Mitchell

This “Back Page” was included in the January 2020 Clergy Newsletter.

A Society of Laws

This is an interesting Sunday (at least for me) on the liturgical calendar. While this Sunday is the Baptism of the Lord, it can also be considered Epiphany Sunday.

If the Baptism of the Lord focuses on the relationship between God and society, then Epiphany Sunday is the relationship between science and society.

In the following thoughts, I have tried to addressed those two points, points that are critical to the future of society.

Ours is a society of laws. Some of these laws come from our understanding of nature; others come through interaction with others on this planet.

The laws that come from our understanding of nature come from a deliberate attempt to understand the world around us. The discovery and determination of these laws is often time laborious and difficult with the results often unintelligible to the untrained mind.

The basic premise of our human-based laws should be to do no harm or to prevent harm from coming to us. From the time that the Code of Hammurabi was first written, laws have been written to define relationships between people and groups of people.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses by God also outlined how the Israelites were to relate with God and others. From these basic tenets came some 600 or so other laws, some telling the people what they could do and others telling them what they could not do. Often, actions dictated by one law conflicted with actions dictated by other laws.

There are those today who would like to have a society based on “God’s law”, whatever such laws may be. But these laws merely seek to place one group of people in a position of power and superiority of others. And the implication of said laws is often done with a sort of discriminatory approach that borders on hypocrisy. Those who wish to have “God’s laws” in place would ban abortion, yet they are quite willing to support the death penalty for criminals and equally willing to go to war, even both of those actions violate the basic commandment that one shall not kill.

And in quoting biblical verses that one should seek an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, they ignore that such statements were never meant to be statements of vengeance and retaliation but rather limits for such action.

And such an approach, founded in a distorted view of the Old Testament, ignores the actions espoused by Jesus who often proposed an active opposition to tyranny and power.

And how do we, today, respond, to the imposition of rules and laws that are designed to discriminate and oppress? The answer comes from the same approach that Jesus used, active opposition to tyranny and power; it comes from the same processes that allowed us to discover the basic laws of nature – experimentation and examination and the use of free thought.

One must understand that this approach cannot tell you if something is good or evil. One cannot quantify good and evil like one can quantify the force of gravity or the speed of light. But if we understand the outcome of our work, we have a better understanding of what we can and cannot do.

We may see others as inferior or different from us but there is nothing in nature that supports that idea, so laws that treat people differently because someone fears the differences between them are unjust and illegal.

Our challenge today is very simple. Create a society in which we understand the world around us that allows us to understand those who share this same world. On this weekend when we celebrate the visit of the Magi, we are quietly saying that we want a world in which we seek the information that brings us to a better time.

“Pardon Me, Do You Know The Way To Bethlehem?”

Here are my thoughts for 5 January 2014, the Epiphany of the Lord Sunday (Year A). The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1 – 12.

A couple of things – I didn’t post anything for last Sunday but if I had I would have compared what transpired in Israel with the slaughter of the innocents with what is transpiring in this country with the cuts being made in our social programs and what is transpiring in other countries such as Syria where children are being killed with the same ease as those who are intent on fighting. Somehow I just can’t escape the notion that we haven’t learned that when you do harm to the welfare of the young and innocent, you don’t give yourself much of a future.

The second note I wanted to make was that I had promised to write something with the title of this post for a youth group to give as a devotional. I want to apologize to that group for not getting it done. In my defense, I am finding it difficult to be creative at the moment. I might be able to use what follows later and prepare something that can be done by a group.

Along those lines, I chose the title because this is the Sunday that the wise men (number unknown) arrived at the home of Joseph and Mary. We know from the scriptures that they were essentially astronomers (thought we would probably call them astrologers today) and had determined by their observations of the night sky that something unique was taking place.

Now, just as I would have compared the situation in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth and Herod’s rage with what we are doing to our children last week, let us think about what is transpiring with our society, country, and throughout the world today.

Each day we get evidence that we are getting dumber and dumber each day. Whether it be in what we know about human qualities or science matters, we are unwilling and unable to sufficiently analyze the information before us and make informed and accurate decisions. I don’t have any data but I suspect that if we were to quantify the number of conspiracy based theories floating around the universe and/or the Internet today, we would find that the number has increased significantly over the past twenty years or so.

And I would be willing to wager that our standing relative to other countries in terms of mathematics, science, history, and reading has fallen at the same time.

Let’s face it; we are quickly becoming incapable of thinking for ourselves. And there are quite a few individuals who would be glad and are working towards reaching the goal where they will do our thinking for us.

Now, some people will gladly point out that religion has a hand in it but it is not religion that is leading us astray. It is those leaders who feel that they and they alone know what is the best path to take and what are the best thoughts to think. These leaders work very well in the darkness of ignorance and will do whatever it takes to keep the people there.

But the prophet Isaiah calls for the people of Israel to be in the light, to see what is coming. You know that if you keep people in the dark, they can’t see what’s coming and if you can’t see what’s coming, you will not be prepared.

I have said it before and I will keep saying it. Our schools are not preparing students for the unknown problems; they are preparing for the problems that are already solved. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that when they assign problems for homework, they have to make sure that the answers are in the back of the book. If they give any other problems, they will hear about it from the administration and the parents.

Even Paul points out that, under normal situations, he might not understand much of what he writes. But he also acknowledges that there was a moment in his life when he gained that understanding.

In some circles, that is called the “AHA Moment”, that moment when a hard problem becomes very easy to understand. We should have all had such a moment in our life but it only comes when your mental skills and thinking processes are tested. And I think that we would all agree that Saul was truly tested that one day on the road to Damascus, sufficient that not only was his mind opened to Christ but his life changed and he became known from then on as Paul.

The wise men were clearly students of the sky, seeking answers to many questions. Whatever it was that they saw, individually and/or collectively, was sufficient to cause them to leave their lands and travel to Israel and seek out Jesus.

You cannot seek out Jesus if your heart is closed; you will never know who Jesus is for you unless your mind is open as well. In our churches today, we are faced with a dilemma. There are those who come to the doors of many churches asking where the child born in Bethlehem may be found. But they do not get an answer because many people do not know the answer or they are unwilling or unable to share the knowledge.

So, do you know the way to Bethlehem? Can you help a traveler find the way?

“To Return Home Another Way”

I am at Dover Plains UMC this morning (Location of church) this morning.  The service starts at 11 and you are always welcome to attend.  The Scriptures for this Sunday, Epiphany Sunday, are Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1 -  12.


I suppose that I have some sort of kinship with the Magi in today’s Gospel reading. After all, they were considered the scientists of their time and my training and professional career have been areas of science. And at some point in each of our lives, we have encountered Christ and it was and continues to be an encounter that changed our lives.

Now, to be sure, we would call the Magi astrologers today but we often fail to realize that they were the ones who made the observations and asked the questions that allowed astronomy, chemistry, and physics to develop. Our view of what the Magi did back then is very much linked to our view of the world today. In fact, our view of the great scientists of the past, such as Isaac Newton, is predicated on our thoughts today and not on what they were doing back then. We see Isaac Newton as the developer of calculus and classical physics but either forget or don’t know that he was also an alchemist of the highest order. And many are not aware that much of Newton’s writings were actually religious in nature. But, by the same token, Newton’s beliefs as a Christian ran counter to the orthodox view of his day, so it is most likely that this information wasn’t easily passed down from one generation to the next (see “A Dialogue of Science and Faith” for further information on 18th and 19th century scientists and their beliefs).

But, to the point of the Magi, while we understand that there is no relationship between the movement of the planets and stars and our daily lives and we have to wonder about those who perhaps still do, we also have to understand that the Magi sought to find relationships between what they saw in the evening skies and what was transpiring in the world around them. And what they saw and what they knew could only allow them to conclude that something special and unique somewhere in a country to the west of their homeland was occurring.

And, just as their scientific worldview was tied to the times in which they lived, so too was their political worldview. And logic dictated that if a new king was born in a land to the west, this child must be have been born in a royal setting. And protocol demanded that any visitors seeking this new king must first call upon the old or present king and congratulate them. In this case, that meant visiting with Herod.

Those verses in Matthew that describe the encounter of the Magi with Herod and his court suggest that the political and religious authorities were not prepared for this moment. And it begs the question, “Did they not see the same signs?”

They clearly knew the prophecies because they were able to tell the Magi that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem. But why were they surprised? Could it be that the status for each one of them was so linked to Herod that they were afraid to say anything? Was their own personal status so dependent on the status quo that they were blind to the changes occurring around them?

True revolutions occur when the powerful are blind to what is happening to the people and are more concerned with their own position and status than they are with the people. And a revolution began that day. We would not see the outcome of this revolution for some thirty years or so but it is clear that it began the moment the Magi told Herod that a new king had been born.

It began when the Magi returned home. It began when the angels told them to return home by another route. When you look at a map of the Middle East, you can see that there are alternate routes from Israel to Babylon. The same is true for Dover. When I look at a map of the area, I can see at least four different ways to get to this church every Sunday; the only difficulty is that I haven’t figured out the best and most logical way to get here or go home in case of bad weather.

But that may not have been the case with the Magi. It may be that they took the same route home that they followed when they sought out the Christ Child, though they clearly avoided contact with Herod on the return journey. But their return was a far cry different than they may have thought it was going to be because of that encounter with Jesus.

I have come to the conclusion that they would not have traveled as far as they did to worship a newborn child and then gone home and said nothing. How could they have not said something! This child that was before them was, according to all the signs, to be the new king and yet He was born in less than a noble setting. The angels sang to this child and shepherds were the first to be told; what king on earth could say that?

These were individuals who spent all their lives studying the skies, analyzing what they saw, and then made conclusions. When the angel warned them about returning to Herod, it could only have confirmed what they saw. So how could they keep quiet?

There is that passage in the Old Testament reading for today where Isaiah speaks of the people smiling on their return to Israel after years of exile in Babylon. Interestingly enough, we presume that the Magi returned to Babylon after traveling to Israel. Clearly, the people of Israel were smiling upon their return. Could it not be said that the Magi were smiling as well when they returned home?

And why should they not have been smiling? Their lives would have changed just as much as the Israelites’ changed? In a world of trouble and strife, the Magi and those they encountered would have known that their lives had been changed by the encounter with the Christ Child in Bethlehem.

To return home and do nothing would be to have written off the trip as a waste of time. And I really don’t see how they could have done that. Unfortunately, in today’s society, there are a lot of people who do just that; they come to church on Sunday morning, sit passively for the hour or so that the worship takes, and then they go home. And if you were to ask them, they would tell you that it was probably a waste of time but they didn’t have anything better to do so they came anyway.

But we came here today, I hope, just as the Magi did so many years ago seeking the Christ Child. It is that encounter that will change our lives and change the lives of the people we meet, if we let it. Paul writes to the Ephesians about how his encounter with Christ changed his life and how he was doing things that he never thought possible.

He speaks of the mystery of Christ and how it is explained to all those who are open to the ideas. Everyone gets the same message but not everyone is open. But he also points out that everyone who does hear and does receive the message is given the opportunity, in a manner perhaps unknown, to tell others about what has happened.

And that is where we are at today. We may very well go home by the same route that we came to church; we may very well do the same thing tomorrow that we have always done on Monday. But this time, this time, maybe we will encounter someone who needs a little encouraging or is searching for something and this time, you will have the answer to give them. This morning, you are given the opportunity to return home another way, not as who you were when you walked in the door this morning but as one who has encountered the Christ Child and has allowed the Holy Spirit to transform and change your life. It is a decision that you have to make.

The Magi had to return home but they did not have to return home silently and quietly. We have to return home as well; we can try it by another way as well.

Do You See The Light

This is the message I presented for the Epiphany of the Lord (2 January 2005) at Tompkins Corners UMC.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1- 12.


Possibly the two greatest words in scientific discovery are “serendipity” and “epiphany”. Serendipity is defined as the accidental discovery of something. Many different discoveries in science have been termed serendipitous because the discoverer was looking for something else. Whatever the discovery was, the key is that the discoverer was prepared to act upon the unexpected information.

Epiphany is also a commonly used word in the area of science and discovery. It is sometimes paired with what is called the “aha moment”, that moment in a person’s life when a concept or idea becomes clear or understood. It is almost as if a light went off in one’s mind and the concept that one struggled so mightily to learn becomes immensely clear.

What we have to know today is that the wise men, however many there were, did not accidentally discover the Star of Bethlehem. It has been suggested that these wise men were from Babylon and, as such, were familiar with the prophecies proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. So when they saw that star in the East, a light figuratively went off in their collective minds. Here was the sign for which they had so diligently searched for so many years.

It stands to reason that when a light, no matter how small or bright shines, darkness will disappear. The presence of any type of light will always bring hope among despair. This is part of what Isaiah was speaking to. The world was in darkness, figuratively and literally. And the birth of Jesus would provide the light that would lead the people out of the darkness.

We have to understand that the appearance of this light is more than just an illumination of the world; it is a life-changing event. Isaiah’s words today show that things change; the wealth of others comes to those who walk in this new light. It should also be noted that it wasn’t only the lives of those Israelites who read and heard Isaiah’s words; so did lives change for all those who visited the baby Jesus. The wise men were probably prepared to return to their homes via the route they had traveled to Bethlehem but, as noted in the Gospel reading, they were warned not to. For to do so would mean another encounter with King Herod and this encounter would not be as pleasant as the previous one. So they returned by another route and their lives must have changed as they contemplated the nature of all they had seen and heard.

Paul encountered the light on the road to Damascus and we know the changes that encounter made in his life. He speaks of an understanding that only comes by revelation; in other words, Paul had an epiphany that day on the road. This epiphany of Paul’s gave him the opportunity to tell others of God’s grace which is to be given for all and not for just a select few.

The question for today is a simple one; “Do you see the light?” There is a moment in everyone’s life where that light appears. Some call it being born-again; I personally think of it in terms of the epiphany. There is a point in time where a light will go off in your mind and soul and you will suddenly understand that Christ did die for your sins, even though that death and resurrection was over 2000 years before you were even a thought.

And once you come into that light, that light becomes a part of you and as Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” But what are you going to do when this happens? John Wesley wrote “Whatever religion can be concealed is not Christianity . . . it is absolutely contrary to the design of the great author of it.” Like the sunrise that announces the beginning of a new day, so too must believers announce the dawning of God’s reign in this world. We are called to be witnesses to the love, grace, and mercy of God, without which none of us would be here. In a world where a pall of darkness seems to have covered us, the call for bold witness for Jesus Christ has never been more vital and necessary.[1]

The Bishop of the Alabama – West Florida Annual Conference gave a sermon at the last Annual Conference in which he spoke of churches in his Conference that turned off the lights in the church. It was not a happy sermon to read because he notes that a number of churches in that Annual Conference were going to close. He also noted that while the conference did show a net gain in members, it was a smaller gain than in the past and more than half of the churches in that conference received no one on profession of faith. I have no idea if those statistics are the same in the New York Annual Conference but I would not be surprised if there were.

What we might think are problems only in our area appear to be nationwide. At a time when people may be more spirituality sensitive, they are still void of any notion of God’s redemptive action. This shouldn’t be the case, whether it is in Alabama or New York.

The wise men were drawn to Bethlehem because of the light they saw in the East. They knew from their studies that it meant something important and when they discovered it, their lives changed. Isaiah speaks of a light shining in the darkness, illuminating the lives of those who for so long walked in the darkness.

When the disciples first gathered together those first days after the crucifixion and resurrection, they did so in secret. But that doesn’t mean that we have to do so today. The hope of the world is found in Jesus Christ but the world today does not necessarily know that; the last few months make that very clear.

So we must be more than those who live in the light must; we must be those who heed Christ’s call to be the light of the world. It may mean that we will have to take risks, make sacrifices and move out of our comfort zone. Jesus’ statement that we are the light of the world is a call to mission; a call to light up the world with deeds of compassion and concern.

We know that the wise men saw the light and came to Christ, honoring him as the newborn King. We know that they left Bethlehem and traveled home by another way, changed by their encounter with Christ. We know that Saul left Jerusalem for Damascus, intent on persecution of Christians but he came to Damascus as Paul because of his encounter with the light. Do you see the light? What will you do?

[1] Adapted from “Turn on the Light” by the Bishop of the Alabama – West Florida Annual Conference on 7/2/2004.

The Light We See

This is the message that I presented at Neon UMC (Neon, KY) on The Epiphany of the Lord, 3 January 1999.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 60: 1 – 6, Ephesians 3: 1 – 12, and Matthew 2: 1- 12.


The month of January is the appropriate month to begin the New Year. For it is named after the god, Janus, who had the ability to look backward to where he had been at the same time that he was looking forward to the future where he might be going. At this time of the year, we take stock of what we did last year and hopefully make notes so that we do not make the same mistakes again. However, there is a limitation to this approach because we can never adequately determine the direction that we are to take.

Even though the Magi knew the direction they had to take to meet the newborn king, they still did not know the exact location, which is why they stopped and asked Herod for help. The Magi knew the prophecies which foretold of the birth of Jesus and looked for the sign that would tell them when the birth had happened. But all that knowledge was not enough for them to know where exactly he was born.

It is important to note that having met the Christ Child, the direction of the Magi’s lives changed rather dramatically. For after meeting the Christ Child, an angel of the Lord came to them and advised them to take a different path home, rather than returning to Herod as was originally planned.

Meeting Christ does change the direction of one’s life. As Paul noted in his letter to the Ephesians, “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,”. Everyone knew that Paul had met Jesus in a rather dramatic fashion and not only was the direction of his life changed, so too was his name.

When John and Charles Wesley returned from England in 1738, they felt that there missionary work in Georgia was a failure. Though both brothers felt that one cannot find peace in life outside Christ, neither man felt that they had truly found the Peace of Christ. Despite their training, despite their backgrounds, neither brother could truthfully say that they trusted the Lord.

But with that moment that we have come to know as Aldersgate, John Wesley’s life changed. Wesley wrote,

I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation. And an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

The star of Bethlehem offered the Magi a wonderful light, directing them towards the Christ Child. The light that Saul, the persecutor of Christians, encountered on the road to Damascus changed his life so that he became Paul, the missionary to the world. The presence of the Holy Spirit, the Light of the World, gave the John Wesley the hope and direction he needed to lead the Methodist Revival.

What does the presence of the Light mean for us? What does meeting Jesus, whether as the Christ Child or as the grown-up Jesus mean for us today? The first lines of the Old Testament reading for today tell us

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.

Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm.

Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.

Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Whether our journey in life requires that we travel to new places far away like the Magi or has us stay home, it is a journey that is changed by the presence of Christ in our life. If somehow we ignore His presence, we are like those covered in darkness. Yet, if we accept Christ in our life, our lives change. Perhaps we do not receive the riches that are spoken of in Isaiah but we become partakers of the mystery that Paul understood.

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

The birth of Christ is a bright shining light in the darkness of the world. Like the Magi, we see that light shining on the horizon. The journey that we do make through this coming year depends what we do. Should we ignore that light, should we try to stay on that path covered in darkness, then we have no guarantees about what the coming year will bring. And the journey through this year will be made alone.

But if we see the Light, the Light of God’s Glory, if we feel the warmth of the Spirit, such as Wesley did so many years ago, we know that our lives will change. Nor longer will we worry about what the year brings because we know that we are not making the journey alone. Wesley understood that once he accepted Christ as his savior, he was no longer alone. The assurance gave him the strength he needed to go on. Like Wesley, the presence of Christ in our live provides a joy and comfort like no other feeling in the world.

Star Light, Star Bright

Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, The Epiphany of the Lord.


We have always been fascinated by the stars. From the day that mankind first looked skyward, we have wondered about the stars. No matter what the culture, mankind has seen patterns in the stars and created stories to go with the patterns. Over the years, we have come to realize that stars are not merely pinpoints of light fixed on the celestial heaven but rather celestial bodies in similarity to our own neighboring star, the Sun.

Mankind’s exploration of the heavens began when we were able to differentiate between stars and planets because planets wandered across the fixed, relative unchanging background of the stars.

Early on, mankind realized that it was possible to find their way by following the stars in the night. Tradition has it that runaway slaves used the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd” as a means of finding their way north to freedom. The “drinking gourd” was another term for the “Big Dipper”, the constellation in the Northern skies that points to the North Pole.

For early mankind, though, the stars were more than simply signposts in the skies that gave directions. In conjunction with the planets and other heavenly bodies (comets, meteors, and so forth), early mankind saw the handiwork of the gods.

Whether it was the conjunction of several stars and/or planets or a comet passing through the skies, something occurred some two thousand years ago that shook the scientific worlds of people far away from Bethlehem.

Today, we would call those who attribute occurrences here on earth to the alignment of the stars astrologers and, hopefully, we give little credence to what they say or do. There is no evidence to suggest that a particular alignment of the stars at a particular time of a person’s life will have any influence on what will happen to that person. All one has to do is consider the dire warnings that were broadcast when all the planets were essentially aligned, as was the case in 2000.

It was said that the combined gravitational pull of all the Jovian planets would have dire consequences on the planet earth; unfortunately, this was not a unique occurrence. The same thing had occurred in 1962 (with the added benefit of a solar eclipse). Neither of these were an exact alignment but the planets were close enough that, if anything was going to happen, it would have happened. (1)

But, two thousand years ago, as knowledge was developing and other gods still dominated daily life, there was something in the sky that spoke of great things about to occur. The Magi were men of science who saw the signs in the sky and deduced that something great was occurring. They were not necessarily magicians or sorcerers, though those are often the images we associate with them. For them, the signs of the sky were an announcement that a new king was being born and such a birth was worthy of their attention and presence. (2)

But the star that they sought was not just a simple combination of planets, stars, and other heavenly bodies. It was the star whose light has shown throughout the ages. It was a light that shown in the darkness and illuminated the world so that all could see. The prophet Isaiah wrote that darkness covered the world but the Lord illuminated the world so that all could see. (3)

The idea of light as part of the Word and as part of Jesus presence is one of the central tenets of the Gospel message. Jesus spoke of not being able to hide the light in a bushel basket and how evil would come to fear the light, for the light would bring the truth.

Even Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians (4), alluded to the opening of God’s word through Christ. God’s mysteries were closed to man until Christ came. But through Christ, the mystery is solved and all are aware of it.

We call this Sunday “The Epiphany of the Lord”. Epiphany is often used to mean that we come to an understanding of what we have been studying. The Magi, however many there might have actually been, came to Bethlehem thinking that they had come to a new-born earthly king. They left aware of a new-born King who transcended heaven and earth. Their own understanding of God’s message to the world had changed.

We live in a society and at a time when we are more interested in the gifts that we can get during the season of Christmas. We focus on the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the Magi brought to the new-born child. We forget the meaning those gifts would have in the years to come. We have been given the opportunity for a great Epiphany of our own, on the order as the one the Magi received. We have the opportunity to change the direction of our life, to go like the Magi in a different direction because of the birth of Christ.

We saw the star, we wondered at its brightness and its luminosity. Did we understand what it was that the star meant?

(1) See among other sites for more on such planetary alignments.

(2) Matthew 2: 1 – 12

(3) Isaiah 60: 1- 6

(4) Ephesians 3: 1 – 12