Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

We’re told every now and then that we shouldn’t be ‘starry-eyed’. Thank God, the Magi were! I hope we are too. We can’t live without stars, without some kind of stars. There’s something sadly in how the night sky is dimmed by the light our cities produce. So, our own ‘lights’, our own ideas and projections, obscure the light shining from above. We are locked in our own world. But the planets and stars remain. They’re a sign of what transcends us. No wonder the ancients gave them the names of gods, Jupiter, Venus, Mars. A Polish woman who spent long years in a Soviet labour camp, wrote later that what sustained her were the times she could lie looking up at the stars. They reminded her there was more to life. They put the rest in context. They were her prayer.

We can’t live without stars. We’re like ancient mariners. We are in the night of history, on the sea of time. We need stars to steer by. We need them to reach the haven of Heaven.

Which stars?

Every time a scientific truth or artistic beauty or a human value lights up for us, a star shines in our sky, light shines in our conscience. The Magi were seekers of this kind of truth and it led them to Christ. It may be in a poem or a song, the lyrics or tune of which remain with us and never fail to re-energise us. It may be in the wise simple things my mother or father used to say.

Yes, others can be stars to us. People we have met. Who hasn’t had at least one inspiring teacher? The people we’re given to cherish. The luminous men and women God raises up generation after generation: the saints. Not the celebrities, the shooting stars, but the true children of God, sometimes hidden, hardly known, sometimes on a lampstand. The ones who ‘in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation…shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life’ (Phil 2:15). Those who live the beatitudes. ‘The wise’, says the prophet Daniel, ‘will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity’ (Dan 12:3).

Our faith is our star. The prophets and evangelists, the readings we hear at Mass, the Gospel. The teachings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, of the Councils and Popes. ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps 118:105). Our sky is full of stars, if only we look (which often means, listen).

We need stars because they’re above us. Unless we live by what’s above us, beyond our immediate needs, pleasure and pain, likes and dislikes, we won’t have a life worth living. The Magi let their star take them away from their world, beyond themselves, into the night of faith. It took them to the house in Bethlehem, symbol of the Church, to Mary and Jesus, to the gift of themselves in adoration. This is a way for us all to follow.

Between 7 and 6 BC, Jupiter and Saturn came together in the sign of Pisces. This actually occurred and there would have been unusual brightness in the night sky. The Magi saw it and ‘clocked’ it. They likely knew the ancient prophecy of Balaam: ‘I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel’ (Num 24:17). This is the Messiah, Jesus, the Star of Jacob, the ‘bright morning star’ (Rev 22:16), the ‘light to enlighten the Gentiles’ (Lk 2:32). The stars are not gods, astrology is untrue and in our psyches and lives there is often more cloud than clear sky. But we cannot live without stars, and the stars remain. Jesus most of all, the true Star of Bethlehem. Brothers and sisters, please be starry-eyed! Let him shine in the sky of our hearts!

Then, like the Magi going home, we will be stars ourselves.


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
A registered Scottish Charity Number SC005122