“Star-Filled JOY”

Posted By Beckie Sweet on Jan 3, 2023 | 0 comments

January 1, 2023 ~ EPIPHANY

Rev. Beckie Sweet


This message is shared by Bishop Minerva Carcaño and published in The Abingdon Women’s Preaching Annual, Series 1-Yr. A, Nashville: Abingdon Press, © 1998.

             I have long been inspired by one of my “sheros,” Bishop Minerva Carcaño.  Her deep and abiding faith, perseverance with our denomination, and experiences within U.S. Hispanic culture has provided me, and thousands other, with invaluable lessons of life and faith.  The message I offer to you today was first offered by Bishop Carcaño before she was a bishop, and is based on her pastoring experience.  She writes,

The children were excited about the church Epiphany celebration.  Christmas was over but there was one more fun program and party.  The most unruly boys were to be the three Wise Men, chosen as a way to keep them under control.  The chubby, shy twelve-year-old girl would be Mary.  A constant baby-sitter for your three younger siblings, she knew how to hold a baby.  The tallest boy would be King Herod and the rest of the children would be an odd assortment of palace guards, priests, scribes, shepherds, and angels.  Rehearsals were rough, but there was no turning back, since the announcement of a family epiphany activity had gone out at the beginning of Advent.

            The children were from Mexico, Central America, and Cuba.  Many of them were undocumented.  All of them lived in a quadrant of the city called “the war zone” because of its violence.  These children and their families lived in utter poverty.  For many of them, the only Christmas gift received was the one the church had given them at its children’s Christmas party.  Epiphany was a new thing for them, but it gave them something to do and a chance to enjoy a refreshment of sweet bread and juice.

            It was strange that the children had no awareness of Epiphany since the afternoon’s program was based on the biblical story of the visit of the Wise Men, but was being celebrated in the Mexican tradition.  I found it interesting that the Mexican children with their families had come to a foreign land to celebrate a tradition of their homeland.  I wondered what they must hold in common with the Magi, also foreigners celebrating the birth of Jesus in a strange land.

            After a pageant-style presentation of the biblical story of the visit of the Wise Men, the children and their families gathered in the fellowship hall to play games and enjoy the traditional Mexican sweet  bread known as Wise Men’s Bread (or King’s Cake) == a bread shaped in a ring meant to remind those who eat it of the Wise Men’s crowns.  In each bread is hidden a miniature baby doll representing the baby Jesus.  The baby doll is baked right into the bread and the person whose slice of bread has the baby doll is crowned with a decorative crown that announces that he or she has, like the Magi, found the Son of God, the Light of the World.

            It was a great afternoon.  Once again, God’s presence had transformed simple efforts into moments of glorious joy.  The children were proud of their pageant and content with their full stomachs.  Tomorrow they would again experience the darkness of poverty, or drug abuse, and gang violence, but for the moment they glowed with the light of Christ.

            It is to the children that we must again strive to teach the story of God’s Epiphany.  It is not sufficient to teach them the story of the birth of the Christ Child, of the Incarnation of God who has chosen to be present with us.  Children, along with adults, need to hear the message of Epiphany; that the light of God incarnate shines for all humanity, breaking through all darkness.  With the Magi we are invited to follow Christ’s light and to allow it to shine through us.

            One of the children in the Epiphany celebration heard the message and responded to it.  With two brothers in jail awaiting trial in a drug-related murder, this young child of ten began to pray on his own.  “Pastor, I want Jesus to live in me,” he would say when I visited his home.  “Follow Jesus,” I would counsel him.  Though not a perfect child, he began to grow and mature in his faith and we began to see the radiance of God’s grace and Christ’s love in his life.

            I worry about this child, knowing as I do, the circumstances of his life with its violence and want.  In my worry I am drawn again to the Matthean story.  If the light of Christ is able to penetrate the darkness of the terror of Herod—who had two of his sons murdered because he suspected them of conspiracy, and also had a wife murdered along with hundreds of public servants for various other suspicions—can it now break through the darkness of modern manifestations of horror and oppression?  But it is better than that.  The star of Bethlehem points to the One who penetrates all darkness, transforming human life and restoring it to right relationship with God and with all of creation.  Through God’s abiding grace, children can dream and expect a better world.

            A child touched to belief by a play and a baby doll in his bread.  It is not so unusual when we consider that Mary the mother of Jesus came to understand the Light within her through the help of Elizabeth, her cousin and friend; that the fishermen of Galilee saw Jesus’ light after a miraculous catch; and that for the Magi, men who consulted the heavenly beings, God’s revelation would come through a star.  Epiphany is a day of eternal hope, for not only is God shattering the pain, God is faithfully reaching out to each one of us where we are, speaking to us through the common and the known, so that none of us are left in darkness or without salvation.

            One dark evening I arrived at the “war zone.”  I was going to pray with the family of the child who wanted Jesus to live in him. One of his imprisoned brothers was about to go to trial.  We gathered in the family’s small living room, making a circle and holding hands to pray together.  As I prayed, the ten-year-old child could be heard saying softly, “Thank you Jesus.”  When we finished praying the child looked up at me and smiled and the room lit up with his confidence and joy in Christ.  In remembering that evening, I have come to a better understanding of the joy of the Magi, who, though they journeyed under the darkness of the evil watch of Herod, were able to rejoice upon finding the Christ Child.  The Magi experienced the touch of Christ’s redeeming light, discovering that when we abide in the sacred light, we will not be overcome.  Even a child knows this!  Thanks be to God!


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