Happy Epiphany 2024

(Last Updated On: January 5, 2024)

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,” (Matthew 2:1)

Hi Fighter,

This Saturday is the Feast of the Epiphany when we remember the mysterious characters ‘from the East’ who came to visit Jesus in his infancy. It’s my favourite ‘Holy Day’ of the Christian year.

Don’t get me wrong – I like Christmas and Easter too, except that they have been overtaken by Santas and bunnies (respectively). Epiphany seems to have thus far escaped over-commercialisation. Moreover, I love the message of Epiphany which, for me, is one of inclusiveness.

We often refer to these mysterious visitors as the the ‘three wise men’ or even the ‘three kings’. In truth though, the Gospel doesn’t say that there were three of them, nor that they were wise, nor that they were all men. They certainly weren’t kings. The Greek word used in the original text is ‘magoi’. It’s the noun from which we get our English word, ‘magician’. These people were court magicians – most likely they were Zoroastrian court magicians from Persia (modern-day Iran). They were experts in astrology and fortune-telling.

Magicians like this were standard fare in the courts of the Ancient Near East and were not unknown in Europe (think of Merlin in the court of King Arthur). Importantly though, we don’t find any such characters in the courts of Israel’s kings. For those living under the law of God, stargazing and fortune-telling were off limits.

Those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons predict what shall befall you. Behold, they are like stubble,” says the Lord (according to Isaiah the prophet). “The fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame (Isaiah 47:13‑14). Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah: “Thus says the LORD: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are false. (10:2‑3)

Most of us are open to insights coming from religious traditions other than our own. This attitude is not obvious in the Hebrew Bible, least of all when it comes to religions like Zoroastrianism. Similarly, in the New Testament, we get two other references to magi, both in the Acts of the Apostles. They are both villains. ‘Simon Magus’ appears in Acts 8, trying to buy the Holy Spirit for money, followed by ‘Elymas, the false prophet’ in Acts 13. Both receive short shrift from the Apostles.

Biblically speaking, the magi were not respected members of an alternate faith. They were pagan idolators whose religion was incompatible with the worship of the true God . Such people did not seek for God in the right way. Their predictions were not to be relied upon or even listened to. The magi were strangers to Biblical truth and not remotely part of the people of God, and yet … when we look around the Nativity scene … there they are, and they are there because God showed them the truth about Jesus in the stars!

One of my Epiphany traditions is to look at my horoscope each year at this time. If the magi found Jesus in the stars, maybe I can find something of value there too?

As ever, I’ve been disappointed. Astrology.com advised me to focus on getting my ‘second house’ this year, which is a bit of a slap in the face for someone who doesn’t own any house. Moreover, in the relationships section it said, you aren’t always the most exciting lover in the zodiac.” Enough said. I’m glad I only check my horoscope once per year.

I don’t like astrologers. I probably wouldn’t have liked the magi. That’s OK. The prophets of old railed against them so I’m in good company. Even so, what I am reminded of every Epiphany is that even superstition pagan idolaters like those magi are welcome in the home of Jesus. Indeed, they stand alongside me, honouring Jesus, and they are there because God invited them, just as God invites us all.

Our Sunday Eucharist

We shared another wonderful Sunday Eucharist last weekend. We were privileged to have both Rob and Father Mark with us live. Father Elias had wanted to join us live and tried to stay up until 2 am (Netherlands time) when our broadcast started. He couldn’t manage it but gave us a wonderful recording, probing the mystery of motherhood and fatherhood in God.

Yes, it was the Feast of the Holy Family in Catholic tradition last Sunday, and Elias took us on a deep philosophical dive into the mysteries of gender and sexuality and family relationships within God. You can watch Elias’ homily here on the member site or watch it as part of the larger broadcast below.

We were also privileged last Sunday to hear Father Mark’s insights on what’s happening in Gaza, and on where things are heading for Israel and Palestine and the wider world. Mark’s reading of the situation is dire, and I am in full agreement with him. Hear him out and fuel your prayers.

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

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