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The Epiphany of the Lord | A Star shall come out of Jacob


Adoration of the Magi (detail), Gentile da Fabriano, 1423, Tempera on panel, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

There was a ‘feeling in the air’ in the first century Roman Empire – a sense that something greater was about to invade the world.  The Jews apprehended it and calculated the approximate timing of the coming of the Anointed Prince from Daniel’s prophecy:

From the time there went out this message:
“Return and rebuild Jerusalem”
to the coming of an Anointed Prince, seven weeks and sixty-two weeks … (Daniel 9:25)

Even the Romans were aware of the coming King.  Suetonius (c. AD 69-140) records that the belief in a Judaean King who would rule the world was widespread in the Eastern Empire – the Emperor Vespasian (naturally) applied the prophecy to himself, little realising that the King had already Risen and was rapidly expanding his Kingdom under Vespasian’s very nose.

There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated for men coming from Judaea to rule the world. This prediction, referring to the emperor of Rome -as afterwards appeared from the event- the people of Judaea took to themselves. (Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 4.5)

That other great historian of the Roman Empire, Tacitus (c. AD 56-120), wrote of this as well:

The majority [of the Jews] were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present as the very time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world.  (Tacitus, Histories 5.13)

How typical of God’s action in history, to ensure that all the key elements were in place for the coming of the Messiah: the Pax Romana with its efficient network of roads , a common language – Greek – for the spreading of the Gospel, and a fevered expectation throughout the eastern end of the Empire that a Messiah-King was due.

So when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the infant King of the Jews”, they were taken seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that Herod did his utmost to prevent the prophecy being fulfilled and ordered the Massacre of the Innocents.  He should have read his Sophocles and realised that the more one attempts to circumvent a prophecy, the more one ends up being caught in its net.

Herod is known as “The Great” because he poured money and resources into ambitious construction projects: the vast expansion of the second Temple and the impressive ten hectare harbour at Caesarea Maritima which was the largest open-sea harbour in all the world.

Great in material achievements Herod might have been, but what is that in the scheme of things?  What do we see about his character from today’s Gospel: deviousness, duplicity, envy and murderous intent;  the use of his power to squash opposition, no matter how small and defenceless;  the recruitment of others to execute his commands, so that, removed from the physical brutality of killing, he could maintain a semblance of dignity.

Josephus tells us that Herod the Great murdered even his own sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, who had gained great popularity with the people, but whom he suspected of plotting against him.

… he ventured, without any certain evidence of their treacherous designs against him, and without any proofs that they had made preparations for such attempt, to kill his own sons, who were of very comely bodies, and the great darlings of other men, and no way deficient in their conduct, whether it were in hunting, or in warlike exercises, or in speaking upon occasional topics of discourse; for in all these they were skillful, and especially Alexander, who was the eldest; for certainly it had been sufficient, even though he had condemned them, to have kept them alive in bonds, or to let them live at a distance from his dominions in banishment, while he was surrounded by the Roman forces, which were a strong security to him, whose help would prevent his suffering any thing by a sudden onset, or by open force; but for him to kill them on the sudden, in order to gratify a passion that governed him, was a demonstration of insufferable impiety.  (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVI)

So much for Herod.  Meanwhile, the Magi – the priestly astronomers of their day and masters of the night sky – are open to the guidance of the Spirit and attentive to the way God communicates through natural events.  The sight of the star ‘fills them with delight’ – their childlike enchantment is as much like Heaven as Herod’s malice and egocentrism is like Hell.  Nobody was forcing them to make this trip to Judaea – they came in voluntary humility, with the idea of giving homage, paying tribute, showing their allegiance, acknowledging a greatness outside themselves.  This journey was not about them, it was about the newborn King.  We don’t even hear their names in the Biblical account.  There was nothing they gained by the journey – no quid pro quo they were expecting to receive from the newborn in return for their gifts.  This was an act of self-giving.

Were these Magi real or fictional?  Fr Dwight Longenecker has been on a quest to discover the historical truth of the matter.  He says,

What I found was astounding. First I discovered that because of their assumption that the Magi story was a fairy tale very few scholars had taken the time to investigate thoroughly the possible identity of the wise men. My research brought me into contact with new technologies which shed light on the subject. Some fresh archeological findings and new understandings from the Dead Sea Scrolls also contributed to the quest.

As it turns out, it is perfectly probable that there were wise men who had the motive, the means and the method to pay homage to Jesus Christ just as Matthew recorded.  The simple truth is that Matthew’s account is factual not fictional. 

My findings not only stand the established academic orthodoxy on its head, but they should cause everyone interested in New Testament scholarship, ancient history and the historical veracity of the gospels to think again. 

Like the story of King Arthur, the tale of the wise men who visited Bethlehem was embroidered and embellished over many years. The history became legend and the legend became myth. But beneath it all there is a foundation of historical truth which is fascinating and compelling.

Stay tuned for his book, The Mystery of the Magi, which will be released in Advent 2017.

Today’s readings:
Word format: epiphany-abc
Pdf format: epiphany-abc


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The Epiphany | How God gives clues to the wise


Adoration of the Magi, c. 1240, Illustrator unknown, tempera and gold leaf on parchment, Wurzburg, Germany, currently in J. Paul Getty Museum, California.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, with today’s Gospel recounting the story of the Magi following the star to arrive at the particular location of the King of Kings.

As we look back over the centuries, we can see how God has been moving through time, making it easier for The Wise to find him, even though oftentimes it may appear to the contrary.  But if we look at the course of human history, we have now arrived at a situation where we have this distribution of religions throughout the world:

Religion Percentage
Christians 31.50
Muslims 22.32
Judaism 0.20
TOTAL 54.02

If God is truly guiding the unfolding of world events, it appears that he is guiding the majority of people at least towards an understanding that there is One God.  For, of all belief systems, the Abrahamic Religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) have now arrived at a point where they make up 54% of the global population.

Hinduism and Buddhism make up only 13.95% and 5.25% of global religions respectively, so we’ll leave them to one side for now.

It is not that statistics ever prove that the most commonly held belief is the one likely to be true, but if God is in charge, he would be wanting most people to have a reasonable opportunity of coming to the belief that One God is much more likely than many Gods or no gods at all.  He is a loving Father, after all, and he doesn’t want us to be lost or without guidance.

Secondly, out of all the Christians in the world, approximately 50% are Catholic.  So again, God is guiding at least half of all the Christians in the world to the understanding that it is reasonable to expect that there should be a human steward (i.e. the Pope) appointed to act as an umpire for the Church in every era – as explained by Jesus in Matthew 16:18. Jesus did this so that the Church would be able to speak with a unified voice.  The problems of not having a duly appointed leader are evident in Islam today, where there is no clear and authoritative direction to the Islamic faithful on how to approach the concept of jihad in the modern world.

So even if it seems as if there is a multiplicity of different ideas and religions in our postmodern world such that it is impossible to choose truth in the face of chaos, God is clearly providing some pointers which the wise might take note of.

Thirdly, if God is in charge of your life, he will guide and direct you personally towards him.  I’m not joking.  All he wants is for you to say, like the Magi, “We have come seeking the King.  Where do I find him?”

You can be sure that anyone with an open heart filled with a desire for truth and goodness will be led in the right direction.

For a clearer explanation of this spiritual journey, listen here.

Today’s readings:

Word format: Epiphany Year C

Pdf format: Epiphany Year C

written by Deirdre Fleming

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The Feast of the Epiphany | God reveals himself to the truth-seeking heart

Adoration of the Magi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1485-1488, Tempera on Panel, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence.

Adoration of the Magi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1485-1488, Tempera on Panel, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence.

Today’s readings are rich with meaning, and we have some snippets to help you reflect on what God has revealed about himself.  First, the Mass Readings for today:

Word format: Epiphany

Pdf format: Epiphany

The Epiphany is all about God’s revelation to the world.  But how does God reveal himself to you personally?  Fr Barron talks here about Oprah-style ‘spirituality’ versus God’s particular revelation of himself in Christ.



Want to do some quiet adoration?  Let God speak to your heart through the music and art in this video.

Finally, Fr John Speekman has some great insights on God’s plan here.

Here is a small distillation of his thought, but you need to read the whole article to get the explanation.

And so, from the Epiphany event we learn a few truths:

  • The Father is presenting the world with his only Son, born of the Virgin. He is indeed ‘King of the Jews’, as the wise men call him, but only when he is ‘exalted’ on the Cross will the title take on its most accurate meaning.
  • The Father has a plan to make his Son known to the world. It is a sovereign plan; which, despite all resistance, will be fulfilled. Herod may plot but God’s purpose will be accomplished– the wise men will simply return ‘by a different way’.
  • God sees the heart. The presence of God’s Son on earth will reveal what lies in the hearts of men. The Magi who travel to seek the divine child travel in a line as straight as their hearts; while Herod shows himself to be evil. He is the precursor of all those throughout history who will oppose Jesus in one way or another, trying to expunge him from the earth.
  • God has come for all men. The Magi were pagans, perhaps even astrologers, and were invited to find and worship the Lord of the Universe. He was revealed to them and before him they fell to their knees and ‘did him homage’.