From the Epiphany Hymn: “Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright; westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light!”
I speak to you in the name of One God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen +
I remember what I was doing when I first heard about the Christmas Star. Feeling overwhelmed and pretty depressed coming to grips with the reality that Christmas services would be online instead of in-person this year, I was sitting on my couch with my calendar planner counting the number of a Sundays that had passed since the start of the pandemic when I heard on TV about the “Christmas Star”— as you surely know, that was the once in every 800 year event where the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn align and created what looks like a bright star in the night’s sky – and it happened this past December 21st. It won’t happen again for another 800 years! The news said that unless it is a cloudy night, the brightness of this Christmas Star would be unmistakable—there would be no way you could miss it…it would be that obvious. #2020. After anticipating this celestial event for weeks, I walked outside to witness bright light and all I could see were clouds obstructing the view of the night sky. This whole thing now seemed pretty on-brand with the rest of this past year, and though you would have thought I had gotten used to all the losses that had accumulated since last March, instead, I found myself deeply disappointed.
For me, when I look up to the stars, I am reminded that I am part of something much bigger—I am reminded that we are not alone—I am reminded that there is so much we don’t understand in this world, but that it’s okay. In the midst of so much uncertainty, I was so looking forward to this event, this Christmas Star… I would go so far as to say I needed to experience this event that was something so rare…so unbelievable that it would be impossible not to feel comforted…not to feel alone…not to feel hopeful in the presence of pure brightness and brilliance among the dark sky. I longed for a peace that I hadn’t felt in quite some time…I yearned for something to change…I was seeking meaning and understanding, but just like so many other moments in the year, on that evening of December 21st, no such feeling came.
And I can’t help, like so many of us, to make that connection between the hopes and dreams of all our years in 2020’s Christmas Star, with those of the magi and their own sort of Christmas Star.
Often referred to as three wise men, these magi were mysterious figures were ultimately spiritual seekers—seekers willing to journey far to the East, following a phenomena in the night sky – the star that would lead them to Bethlehem. The fabled story today of these three kings sent initially by Herod to help alert the king to the birth of the Messiah that he might destroy, is the formulation of the start of the new season of the church year, Epiphany. The season begins today with this story, the magi looking east to something in the sky that changes their life. What started out as a journey following a star they believed would lead them to a king, ended up transforming them—changing them by the wonder and joy they experienced upon their arrival at the stable in Bethlehem.
For it is there on that floor of hay, surrounded by lower class shepherds and smelly animals, that the three wise men understand what God had done. A star had guided them to the Perfect light—the truth—that God had chosen the most vulnerable among them—this simple, peasant baby—to be the example of what God’s love can and should look like in the world, and from that moment they were transformed and changed in their hearts. The world they knew was now different, but it is was beautiful. They don’t go back to Herod, they flee in fact, just as Joseph and Mary flee with the baby Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the innocents.
The three magi in this Epiphany moment understand why they looked to a star for guidance and everything becomes clear. They were ready for a change—deep down, they knew there must be a better way, and through Christ, they were able to view the world differently. This is the heart of the Epiphany season – the birth of the Christ child has signaled a change, the kind of change that allows us to view the world differently.
With this Epiphany truth, how we see the world can also change. While this past year has brought much pain, struggle, grief, loss, and mourning, it has also brought to light—it has revealed—truths that many of us hadn’t seen or known or perhaps forgotten. A bright light has shone upon the systems that support economic inequality and racial injustice, and they can no longer be hidden. In the midst of furloughs and layoffs, and the need for government financial assistance, the fallacy of always being able to pull yourself up by the bootstraps has been illuminated. Light has continued to shine in this dark past year, and the question we need to ask ourselves this Epiphany is “has the light changed us?”
In hindsight, ultimately, on that cloudy night on December 21st, as I gazed up to the sky, I was not looking for a star…I was looking for a savior. Among all the chaos surrounding me at that time, I was seeking light because I was ready for a change. Just because I couldn’t see the Christmas Star on that cloudy December night didn’t mean that it wasn’t there. Quite the contrary was true. There will always be cloudy days or nights —and sometimes even cloudy years—but God’s light is always present, even when you can’t see it.
This Epiphany let us remember that our light—our Perfect light—has already come in the form of Jesus, it is already there and trust me, it is shining forth; and it will change and transform us when we continue to seek God’s light, even,… and especially… on the cloudiest of nights.