Epiphany Question

by Juan L. Mercado


Araw Ng Tatlong Hari or “Feast of  the Three Kings”, is marked  here on first  Sunday of  the new year. Liturgically, this is known  as the  “Epiphany”. That translates into  revelation of  God  the Son as  a baby laid on a manger.

Day after Epiphany, many  take down their belens and switch off Christmas lights.  Others keep them until February 2.  But Epiphany stirs old questions.

“Behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?’” Matthew wrote. “‘For we have seen His star at its rising and have come to worship Him.”

Was the Star of Bethlehem a  comet?  An alignment of planets?  “It led the Magi”, as historian Horacio  De  La  Costa  put  it,  “to  go on a fool’s errand,  to a Prince  they have not  seen, in a country they  do not know.”,  recalls the weekly newspaper Mabuhay.

‘Science is unraveling  the mystery behind one of  the most famous stories in  astronomical   history,” says a  British   Broadcasting Corporation report. “New  technology allows  (scientists) to map ancient night skies with extraordinary accuracy. They’re  looking  at  a number of unusual events   the Magi could  have seen”.

”Experts now challenge a traditional claim: that the star was a comet.   Halley’s Comet appeared about 12 BC. Chinese and Korean star-gazers, around 5 BC, reported a blazing object. For over 70 days, it didn’t budge.

Could the Star have been a rare “triple conjunction” of planets in 7 BC?,  asks  Dr. David Hughes of  University of Sheffield. Jupiter and Saturn came together thrice, over  several months, that year.  An ancient clay tablet, now displayed  in the British Museum, describes this merging,” BBC’s Rebecca Ellis adds.

They were probably astrologers from Persia. “There is evidence that Persian astronomers predicted this  conjunction,” Professor Hughes adds. They combined science with faith to predict the birth of a new Messiah.

“A particularly striking conjunction occurred in June 17, 2B.C,” Ed Krupp of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles told National Geographic. “For skywatchers, at that  time, it looked like a massive, single star…”

Matthew writes when the Magi  found “the Child with Mary his mother, they opened their bags and offered him gifts of gold, incense and mrryh.” — ancient symbols of  divinity, kingship —   and pain. Inheriting Spanish tradition, Filipinos call the Magi Gaspar, Melchor and Baltazar.

The Magi  upset the elite of their day. Herod  “was greatly disturbed and” —- note  this  — “with him all the people in Jerusalem.”  He hurriedly summoned leaders to what Filipino politicians today would dub a caucus or pulong-pulong

Where would this  Messiah be born?, he demanded of experts who  had the answer down pat: “In the town of Bethlehem” And they cited  verse and line from  scriptures to back  their stand.  But they didn’t move out of their comfort zones. They did nothing. It was business-as-usual then.

Will it be business as usual in 2013? Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life  just published “The Global Religious Landscape”. This study is anchored on analysis of 2,500 national censuses in 230 countries and territories.

Among other conclusions, it finds that today  that  there are  2.2 billion  Christians. Those who say the heed the Child of Bethlehem make up make up 32% of the world’s population. Breakdown of other major faiths: 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%).

“Fully 97% of all Hindus live in India, Mauritius and Nepal.  Nearly nine-in-ten Christians (87%) are found in the world’s 157 Christian-majority countries. They’re also the most evenly dispersed. Europe ( 26%), Latin America and the Caribbean (24%) and sub-Saharan Africa (24%).”

Three out  of every four,  who cluster in Asia and the Pacific, are “religiously unaffiliated  (76%).  In China, the number of creed-less  people crests at about 700 million. That’s  more than twice the total US  population.

In his Christmas message Urbi et Orbi, Benedict XVI  addressed a direct appeal to the leaders in Beijing, “in a particularly difficult time” . Uneasy relations between the Holy See and China, became more tense after  Beijing  last year forced sacking of Shanghai  auxiliary bishop Ma Daqin.

“May the king of peace turn his gaze to the new leaders of the People’s Republic of China for the lofty task that awaits them,” the pontiff said. ” I hope it will enhance the contribution of religions, in respect to each, so that they can contribute to the construction of a society of solidarity for the benefit of that noble people and of the whole world”.

Chinese leaders issued, just before Christmas, 8,330 copies of a 16-page  secret  order, from the Communist Party’s Central Committee. This  directed universities to root out foreigners seeking to converting students to Christianity, Reuters reported.

The document singles out Christianity as particularly dangerous and the US leads the effort. “No other country or religion is mentioned by name”, Reuters notes. Buddhism and Taoism are now supported by the government to some degree, “Christians remain a source of contention, along with Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners”.

In his 1927 poem “The Journey of the Magi”, T.S. Eliot has one of the Magi, reflecting years after they were warned against returning to Herod. They made it to their country “by  another way.”` ”We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,/  But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,/  With an alien people clutching their gods.”

Life was never the same, after being led by a star to this Child.

(Email:  juan_mercado77@yahoo.com )

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