January 2, 2022 ~ EPIPHANY ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
When my children were infants and young toddlers, we spent our summer vacations camping on our farm in northern New York State. Away from home and on a different time schedule, bedtimes were often quite challenging. In order to get the children to sleep, I would often carry them for walks out under the stars, and suggest that they gaze at “God’s night lights” in order to quiet their minds – for we were very far from the nearest street light. So comforting was this vacation-time star-gazing, that we eventually put some of the stick-up glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceilings of the kids’ bedrooms to provide an opportunity for indoor star-gazing. Then, it wasn’t long before Paul began begging to have his own telescope, so that he could get a closer look at the celestial lights that fascinated and comforted him so.
The Magi in today’s gospel story were star-watchers also, astrologers, probably teachers from a Persian Priestly caste. I look forward to reading this passage from Matthew after Christmas each year, for it seems to round out our Christmas celebration. Through this scripture reading, our nativity scene becomes complete as the Wise Ones arrive with their gifts. These star-watchers saw a brilliant star rise one night and knew that it signaled God’s intervention in the human family. Amazingly, they knew that God would send a Savior in infant form to be some kind of ruler of the people, but they knew not where this child would be born. So, they followed the star to find the Christ child.
In a day when most searches were carried out by daylight, without the benefit of electric lighting, it must have seemed odd that these Wise Ones could only travel at night, since it was a star that led them. Today, the GPS directions which we follow measure our traveling in miles, hours and minutes. Imagine setting out on a journey which would take months and years to complete! The Wise Ones knew that in order to view the full brightness of God’s revelation, they must journey through the darkness following the light.
So now it is Epiphany: the season of light, the season when we celebrate God being revealed to humanity in ways that will shatter the darkness of the sinful world. We celebrate with candles and twinkling lights, bright-lighted trees inside and outside our church and homes. Some are quick to extinguish the lights we associate with Christmas, often removing them from their homes just as this season of light is beginning! Why are we so quick to extinguish the light? Light exposes. Light reveals. Light announces. Light demands. One such light is a star. Another is the Christ, who when teaching reminded hearers, “I am the light of the world.” John 9:5 and then later, in John 12:46: [Jesus said,] “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness.”
In light and in dreams, God is revealed to us. When the Christmas lights are put away, God’s light remains. The sun, the moon, and all the stars stay in the sky. They are fixed and dependable; they are there to light our way, fascinating and comforting us in ways that only God can. These lights can serve as reminders of the constant presence of Almighty God in the midst of sickness, confusion, turmoil, doubt, and fear.
In these days, we celebrate light and we sing about stars in the sky: silent ones looking down on the manger, the place where Jesus lay. In Jesus’ birth, God is further revealed as a creator who desires to be among creation, and bring creation to its best – full salvation; eternal life. As with welcoming a babe, becoming our created best is joy-filled, and challenging; awe-inspiring, and demanding; impossible, yet filled with all possibility in faith. In these days, we celebrate the knowledge and thrill of Jesus’ birth. A star reminds us of all of this.
“Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight . . .” How many of us recited these words as we made a wish upon the first star seen at dusk. During the busy evenings ahead, may we take the time to look up at the stars: filled with mystery and mastery, comfort and awe. And may we remember the holy birth. For the twinkle of even the tiniest star gives hope to those seeking the light. Make a wish – or better yet, say a prayer for the comfort and joy of those lingering in the darkness, and the illumination of the darkness that remains in our lives. The star, the little light suspended in the darkness shines – and its brilliance, whether small or large, is constant. It is as though God is saying to us: I am here. I am with you. I will lead the way. I have come so that you will know me. You are not alone.
May each and every star remind you of our Savior, sent to be the Light of the world. May the mystery and the light of this season bring you closer to the Savior, the Light of life. Amen.