When I was in college, I spent my summers in West Virginia working as a counselor at a church camp called Peterkin. A favorite activity of both the campers and the counselors was an evening hike up the mountain to Heaven’s meadow to go stargazing. The campers loved it because most hadn’t seen a wide-open sky before, and the counselors loved it because we got to witness the campers experiencing total awe and amazement at the huge starry sky. Sidebar: I know most of you are from the Midwest, used to big open skies to look at the stars, but West Virginia is a state completely made up of mountains that are covered with deciduous trees, so it is really hard to find these big open skies needed to truly stargaze.
For us on the staff, it was a priority to give them this experience—an experience of something new, something that made them realize they were part of something bigger than themselves, something where they can get lost in the vast expanse of God’s creation. I can still hear the sound the kids would make as we would come to the end of the trail on the hike—the part where the trees ended, and the big starry sky would begin. WHOA!!!! Once there, we all would lay down on the grass and simply look up. “Look how many there are…I think I see the Big Dipper,” these were normally the initial comments, but what became very apparent to the kids, was the longer you lay and watch, the more you notice and see. In the course of an hour, or so, we would spend looking at the sky, comments moved from the general to the specific: “Look, a plane!” “That group of stars is much brighter than the other stars!” And then, it would always eventually happen, “what’s that?! It’s moving in the sky, but it isn’t bright enough to be a plane.” And a counselor would say, “that’s not a star or a plane…it’s a satellite. There are enough satellites orbiting earth that you should be able to one at least every 15 minutes.” And the kids instantly go, “WHOA!!” And then, shockingly enough, the remaining time would turn into who could spot the next satellite!
I loved stargazing night at camp. I loved it because I saw these kids viewing the world with curiosity and excitement and awe, and because for many kids, I got to see the moment they viewed the world differently—the moment when they realized things were happening all around, and that if they spent time looking they might see something new. I still remember what one camper said the moment he saw the satellite for the first time, “Wow, it makes me wonder…what else is out there that I am not seeing?”
On December 25th, we celebrated Jesus’ birth, God becoming incarnate and choosing to come in the form of a baby to be the Messiah. He was born into a Jewish family, in a Jewish culture, in a society who was desperate for a Savior. God had revealed to the Jewish people in Scripture and the prophets of a Messiah who would be of the line of David and born in Bethlehem. But today, on the Feast of the Epiphany, with the story of the Magi, we are celebrating the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah to not just the Jews, but to the whole world. Just as God chose to take the form of a baby, God chose to reveal God’s self in a way that the Wise Men from the East could understand—they were astrologers who knew the language of the night sky, so God gave them a star to follow.
The Magi did not know Scripture—they didn’t know the law or the prophets—but they did know the stars and they knew this was unlike anything they had ever seen before. This star let them know something great had come into this world and that they were not alone. They even joyously journeyed with excitement as they curiously followed the star to their Messiah. No matter how narrow their previous worldviews may have been—no matter their previous limitations or things that might have obstructed their view, because of this star that led them to God in human form, their world had now changed.
Our God is not the God of the few, or chosen, or elect—no, our God is the God for all people, Jew and Gentile, East and West, Northside and Southside. And our God will meet us where we are, even if we don’t know Scripture, or can’t read the stars, or if we don’t have access to the big open clear sky. The Good News is that God has revealed God’s self for all people, and God will continue to reveal God’s self to all people.
Epiphany is a day to rededicate ourselves to God’s revelation to us—the revelation to see the world in a new and exciting way—and to rededicate ourselves to Jesus, our Savior and redeemer for the whole world. Today is a day to basically ask the question, “what else am I not seeing?”—“who am I not seeing?”—“what is it in this world that is blinding me to the greatness, and love, and awe of God?” That is why we have baptisms and renew our baptismal vows today. After each baptism, the children give a candle to the newly baptized and say “receive the light of Christ.” Receive the light that illumines even the darkest and dimmest view of the world—receive the light that makes you see things anew in a world you thought you knew—receive the light of Christ so you may see all of God’s people as God also sees them. It is the light of Christ that will joyously lead you to seeing all the marvelous revelations God continues to give to us today. Receive the light and be the light of Christ.