Where the Sun Is

(Homily for Epiphany Sunday)

Bottom line: Where the sun is, the stars have no light. Astrology and naturalism fade when one discovers Christ.

I'd like to begin this Epiphany homily by describing one of the most beautiful sights a person can see. I admit I have rarely seen it because it involves getting up very early in the morning - before dawn, when there are still stars visible in the sky. The sun has not yet risen, but you can see its light on the eastern horizon. Little by little the stars begin to disappear. Soon there is only one left and it is not a star. It is the planet Venus. Finally the light of the sun overcomes Venus, the Morning Star.

Something like this happens in today's Gospel. Wise Men - also called Magi or astrologers or The Three Kings - come from the east because they have seen a "star." We don't know exactly what the star refers to. The Chicago Planetarium once had an exhibit title "The Star of Bethlehem." They reconstructed the heavens around the time of Jesus' birth and speculated that the star may have referred to a comet, some configuration of planets or perhaps the Morning Star itself. Whatever it was, the star led to Jesus. But when the Magi found Jesus, things changed. Jesus was like the sun rising at dawn. The Wise Men no longer need stars and planets. They now had the bright, life-giving sun.

The poet Lope de Vega wrote a beautiful poem about this. It is worth learning Spanish just to read this one poem. Its title is: La llegada de los reyes magos. The arrival of the Magi Kings. Lope de Vega describes how the star guided them in the dark night, but when they found Jesus, the stars faded. Although it is difficult to translate Lope de Vega's poem into English, let me try a few lines.

You Kings, who come from the East,
are searching the night sky
looking at the their beautiful lights.

Do not follow them now
for where the sun is
the stars have no light.

The Child shines upon you.
And where the sun is
the stars have no light.

Lope de Vega is thinking about the practice of astrology. It was something that attracted him, but he realized that if he was going to follow Christ, he would have to give up astrology. That could be hard for many people - perhaps some in this congregation. The Catechism, however, makes it clear that a Christian has to choose: "Consulting horoscopes, astrology, (etc.) contradict(s) the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone." (2116) Where the sun is, the stars have no light.

There is a more subtle way people want to put their trust the stars, instead of Christ. A famous astronomer named Carl Sagan said, "we are star stuff." That is a poetic phrase and it is true as far as it goes. The matter that forms us was ultimately forged in the furnace of stars. But, unfortunately, Sagan meant it in an absolute sense: We are only star stuff. For him - and for philosophical naturalists - that is all we are.* As Christians, we take a different view. We admit that we are material beings, but we believe that we are something more. When we encounter Christ, his light overwhelms even the stars. Astrology - and naturalism - fade when one discovers Christ.

Today's Gospel tells what happened when the Magi Kings met Jesus. They gave him their greatest gifts. Gold represents wealth and power. Frankincense and myrrh had legitimate uses, but they were also utilized in occult practices. The Magi placed all this at Jesus' feet. Then they returned to their land, not guided by stars but more directly by God. They had looked upon the sun and they knew that the stars - beautiful as they are - are dim by comparison.

Do not follow them now
for where the sun is
the stars have no light.

The Child shines upon you.
And where the sun is
the stars have no light.

Aware that Jesus is the light of the World, we now listen to the Proclamation of Date of Easter 2012:

Dear brothers and sisters:

The glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons, let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.

Let us recall the year's culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising, celebrated between the evening of the fifth day of April and the evening of the eighth day of April, Easter Sunday. Each Easter as on each Sunday, the Holy church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has forever conquered sin and death. From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the twenty-second day of February.

The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the twentieth day of May.

Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the twenty-ninth day of May.

And this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the second of December.

Likewise, the pilgrim Church proclaims the Passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise forever and ever.

Amen!

(The deacon or lector – or priest – may read this proclamation after the homily or after the Communion Prayer on Epiphany Sunday)

**********

*Naturalism is attractive because of its simplicity, but it achieves that simplicity at a price. For a consistent naturalist, good and evil are subjective concepts and there can be no true freedom. As Richard Dawkins wrote, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." In this view the young woman here in King County, who on Christmas eve murdered her parents, her brother and sister-in-law and their two children, committed no evil act. Dinesh D'Sousa points out the logical consequences of such a view:

"If we are purely material beings, then we should no more object to a mass murder than a river objects to drying up in a drought. Nevertheless we are not like rivers. We know that evil is real, and we know that it is wrong. But if evil is real, then good must be real as well. How else could we tell the difference between the two." (What's So Great About Christianity, p 276)

In spite of his militant naturalism, Carl Sagan likewise knew that good and evil are real. Take a look at the video where he confidently explains that we are "star stuff." It shows pictures of primitive life forms gradually morphing into a human (of course, a young woman). At the conclusion he announces that "we are star stuff that has taken destiny in its own hands." He offers no explanation how this leap has taken place. He simply asks us to accept that it happened gradually. Then, with no show of irony, he exhorts us not to "capitulate to superstition, greed and stupidity." He urges us to make sacrifices for future generation (who by the way have done nothing for us). :-) Well, like most naturalists Carl Sagan is better than his philosophy.

Spanish Version

From Archives (Epiphany Sunday)

2016: New Beginning: Lift up Your Eyes
2015: Two Uses of Science
2014: The Big Story
2013: Price of Liberation
2012: Where the Sun Is
2011: Science and God
2010: Three Types of People
2009: A Glimpse of the Mystery
2008: Where the Sun Is
2006: When Worlds Collide
2005: A Powerful River
2004: The Last Man
2003: The Materialist and the Magicians
2002: Astrology and the Christ Child
2001: Together with His Mother

Other Sunday Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

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Fr. Brad's Homilies

Fr. Jim's Homilies

Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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(December 2012 - Vacation Bible School at Mary Bloom Center)

From Fr. Bob Barron Herod and the Magi : Feast of the Epiphany (audio file well worth listening to)

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