When I was training to be a journalist, the editor told our little group of trainees that if the editorial failed to appear, the readers probably would not notice. But, he went on, if the horoscope was omitted, hordes of appalled readers would be complaining. Similarly, 2000 years ago, people believed in astrology. The movement of the stars was thought to reflect the disposition of different powers in the heavens. From reading the stars it was thought that we might understand what powers were dominant, what influences were in the ascendant, and how these would influence events on earth. It would lead people to ‘read’ their future in the stars.
As Christians we do not believe in strange cosmic powers. St Paul himself made it clear that all powers are subject to God (Rom.8.38, Col. 1.16) and criticised those obsessed with reading the heavens (Gal. 4.9). Our future is in the hands of God, and in our response to his grace. Our security is knowing that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, blessed by the love of God that shines on us from the face of Christ.
Why do people still read horoscopes or believe in astrology? We know that astrophysics explains planetary oscillations, not the gods. Yet, many people have a feeling of helplessness in their lives. Perhaps most of us have felt like that at some time. Vast economic forces or political developments, or personal developments like ill health, can greatly shape our lives. In the face of this anybody can feel daunted, and wonder if there is a hidden meaning. Hence the recourse to the horoscope.
In Epiphany we do remember hidden meaning – but it is a hidden meaning suddenly being made clear. In the coming of the Christ, the hidden story is revealed. God in Christ has leapt the boundaries of time and space to speak to us of his desire that we should know him and love him. This is what makes sense of our lives. There will always be powerful forces at work around us, but in the face of Christ we know the truth that God loves us, and invites us to respond to love with love. This love leaves us free. We are free to choose wisely or to choose foolishly. We can act in love or in resentment. And yes, sometimes we can be victims of others. But what God’s love tells us is that there is a meaning and a purpose to our lives. Knowing that our world was created by God gives dignity to the whole of nature. Realising that we are each known and loved by God, tells us that our lives have a purpose, because God calls us to be a people of generosity, compassion, penitence and reconciliation wherever we are, and thus a force for good. Sometimes we are up and sometimes we are down, but God is always there in our lives, blessing and encouraging.
So what about those wise men who followed the star? It tells us, I think, that God can work in all kinds of ways. God was able to speak to them through the beliefs and the systems of their time and culture. What matters, surely, was that their hearts and minds were open and that they were searching for answers. It was their seeking and their openness to God that eventually led them to the wonderful revelation at Bethlehem. Perhaps you know someone who wants to believe, but cannot. Encourage them to keep an open mind and to believe that those who seek will one day find. And to believe in the good, until that day when they can believe in God.