Epiphany is my favourite Christmas season holiday, for various reasons - from mundane through professional to spiritual. In the first place, it is wonderfully quiet. Since it is about human gifts to God and not gifts to the humans themselves, the media and secular world pay little attention and do nothing to twist its meaning.
There is no stress of last-minute shopping, cooking and baking. No little giggles when your dear and near unwrap those "surprises" you got a few hours before off the empty shelves - the immortal ties and the wrong size sweaters.
No struggle to get the kids away from the new toys when the time to go to midnight Mass comes. No carrying them asleep from the church. Oh yes, on the most practical and mundane level Epiphany is simply great!
Seriously, if you are - like I am - a busy person, Epiphany is when you can stop and take in the whole wonder of God's incarnation and birth as a human infant, and you can do it in peace.
You can look towards the heavens for the star that once guided three Gentiles, the wise men, from the faraway East to Jerusalem and then to the Child.
Unless we are stargazers, we do not look at the stars too often or know them. In antiquity, without detailed maps or GPS and few defined roads, every man and woman knew the constellations and their movement. Stars guided them on the seas and led them through the pathless sands of deserts.
'We observed the star at its rising.'
Unusual phenomena in the skies were noticed and interpreted as divine signs. The interpretation of such signs rested in the hands of men who devoted their whole lives to this task and who had thousands of even more ancient oracular texts at their disposal to consult. It was a highly specialized art, that of the Magi of Persia or Persian Babylon.
How was God to let the Gentiles know that he was born? They had no prophetic books talking about the Promise, the Messiah, like the Jews did. They were hopelessly entangled in idolatry, blind and disoriented, afraid of petty divinities they had created.
Yet God wanted to communicate with them. In order to do that he used the only language they understood - that of the star-sign.
The Jewish scholars who the Magi met in Jerusalem did not need astrology to find the birthplace of the Promised King. They could consult the Holy Books - and asked by Herod, they did.
Why did none of them take the road to Bethlehem? Maybe the fear of the king put them off. Maybe it was their own pride, too much reliance on the knowledge they thought they had and not enough on their hearts.
"The star is not a sign for us," they thought. "These Gentiles know nothing." So they missed greeting the God-Child, unlike the Jewish shepherds and the Gentile Magi.
The star leads only childlike people to Jesus, those who are open to wonder and beauty, those who either possess little or are ready to give up what they possess in order to find God.
Over the past 2,000 years, hundreds of millions of us have reached Jesus because some became the full-time followers of the star like once the Magi did.
I call such people the knights (or maidens) of the star. They are known as saints, but also include all priests, sisters and monks, Christian laymen - all those ready to drop everything and go to Bethlehem.
I am privileged to teach Latin to a few of them. They are called seminarians. In them I see the Magi getting ready to get on their camels and go across the dangerous, wild world, following the star, their own lives as gifts for Jesus.