The Epiphany: The Magi and the Christmas Star

Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.

The Oxford Dictionaries defines “ephiphany” (with a small “e”) as “a moment of sudden revelation or insight” and “a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being”. The word “Epiphany” (with a capital “E”) refers to “the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi”.

Today is the great feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the Magi — an event that had been foretold in Isaiah 60:1-6 some 800 years befre the birth of Christ.

Isaiah 60:1-6

Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you….
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you….
Then…the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah;
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.

The Magi were wise men — non-Hebrew pagans from the East. Bearing gifts fit for a king — those of gold, frankincense, and myrrh — their coming to Jerusalem to pay homage to “the king of the Jews” shows that they seek in the messianic light of the Christmas star, the one who will be king of all nations.

It is noteworthy that the first creatures to see the newborn Jesus were his human parents, Mary and Joseph; angels on high; humble farm animals; lowly shepherds; and Gentiles — the Magi.

The Epiphany, therefore, signifies the manifestation of Jesus as Son of God and Savior of the world — not just the Old Testament‘s oft-prophesied messiah of the Jews. God is not a tribal deity, exclusive to only the so-called “chosen people”. Jesus the Christ came for Jews and Gentiles. He came for all of us, no matter our race, gender, language, country, or creed.

As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians 3:6:

[T]he Gentiles are coheirs,
members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise
in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Noteworthy also is the fact that the Magi, as the first Gentiles to find Jesus, were also the first Gentiles to receive His salvific grace. As recounted in Matthew 2:12:

And having been warned in a dream
not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country
by another way.

By the way, astronomers, using software programs reproducing the night sky exactly as it was thousands of years ago, have determined there really was a Christmas Star or Star of Bethlehem. David Reneke, news editor of Australia’s Sky and Space Magazine, said: “We found out something startling. It looks like the ‘Christmas star’ really did exist.”

It’s generally accepted by most researchers that Christ was born between 3 BC and 1 AD. On 12 August, 3 BC, Jupiter and Venus appeared very close together just before sunrise, appearing as bright morning stars. It would have been visible in the eastern dawn sky of the Middle East from about 3:45 to 5:20 a.m.

But it didn’t stop there. The crowning touch came ten months later, on 17 June 2 BC, Venus and Jupiter joined up again in the constellation Leo. This time the two planets were so close that, without the use of our modern optical aids, they would have looked like one single, brilliant star.

Venus is known as the planet of love; Jupiter as the planet of kings; and Leo denotes royalty and power.

See these other cases of science confirming Biblical accounts:

May the joy of the Epiphany and the peace and love of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, be with you!

~Eowyn

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Steven Broiles
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Thank you, Dr. Eowyn, for a really great post. Yes, who saw Jesus the Newborn first? His human parents, the angels, the animals, and then, later on, the Magi. Who were these Magi? And where in “the East” were they really from? Who told or inspired them to follow that “star?” All excellent questions, which seem, to me, to be unknown to us. And your mention of the astronomy involved is also important: In a reply to a recent post on FOTM, I said that some have believed that “Jupiter and Saturn may have been in conjunction, appearing to be… Read more »

Auntie Lulu
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Auntie Lulu

Thank you Dr Eowyn for this lovely and special lesson. I particularly love the fact that you gave us the dictionary definitions, and when to capitalize the word. Very inciteful both spiritually and temporally.

Maryaha
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Maryaha

My family and I talked about this when they were here on Christmas Eve. I believe the Magi were Persians who had studied the prophecies of Daniel, and knew the timing for the Messiah’s birth was getting close. Daniel prophecied that He would be “cut off”, but He had to be born first. The book of Daniel gave the exact date that the Messiah would be declared the King of the Jews, which was Palm Sunday, and He was cut off just days later. The Magi knew the star they saw was the evidence that it was indeed time for… Read more »

CalGirl
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CalGirl

Thank You Dr, E….this means so much to me, as my family celebrated the Epiphany as the “true” day of exchanging gifts in the name of the Chist Child…(“Christmas” was something else—the birth of the Christ Child generally observed in church & w/family meal, family gathering, family midnight church ceremony on Eve before SAINT Nicholas threw his gift (historic) down the chimney….or…in the case of other relatives….deposited fruit/nuts(or coal) in our shoes set outside the door)….. But, being as my elders are all deceased now, & the rest of us are spread all over the country….very few in my family… Read more »