Let us pray:
Teach us by your Holy Spirit, Lord, as we reflect on the Star that illumined the way to the birthplace of our Lord – for foreigners – so many years ago. Give us insight that we might bring your needed light to others. Amen.
“There is a fire burning; it snaps and crackles as it catches and comes to life. The flames provide heat and light, both welcome on a cold,… dark [and wintry!] night.”
If not tended carefully on a dry summer’s eve, “…as the fire burns, sparks jump out into the air and fall to settle on the earth. If fanned and fed a single spark will ignite a new fire of its own.” But there is another kind of fire, perhaps even more powerful to shape the world if it is let loose…
“Deep inside of your heart there is a spark which cannot be extinguished. Your light is a gift from God, born out of and a reflection of the light of Christ. Let your spark become a flame burning radiantly. Your flame will spread warmth to those who need comfort. Your fire will send sparks of hope and joy into our world.”
So writes Samantha Haycock, upon reflecting on the first three verses of Isaiah. She is so right! Each of you is an inspiration to me. Each of you inspires one another, lifting up one another in mutual support in your pursuit of that higher standard of living that is an earmark of the deeply spiritual. Thanks be to God for our ultimate inspiration Jesus Christ and the Star that led foreign Gentiles to kneel before him and pay him homage. They are our forefathers in the faith perhaps even more so than our spiritual ancestors of the Hebrew people, for we too are not of the original tribe into which our Lord Jesus Christ was born.
The star can signify so many things for us. For example, have any of you ever received the gift of a polished stone with a special word on it? These words can become symbolic guiding “stars” for us, if you will. Jill Duffield writes,
“Star words include things like ‘patience’ or ‘courage,’ ‘receive’ or ‘respect,’ ‘turn’ or ‘leadership’ or ‘loyalty.’ [It is like] making Epiphany applicable to daily life…”
Yet there is still a mystery that I have not seen fully explained. Why did the Scribes not leap with joy at the words the Wise Ones bring and bodily accompany them to Bethlehem? Because they, along with all Jerusalem, were afraid; not of God’s truth, but of Herod; who for them held the keys of immediate life or death. But in truth, it is Herod who should be afraid – and indeed he is, as Jill goes on to write,
“…because anyone abusing their power, exploiting the vulnerable, hurting the world God so loves, will be overthrown. Our star words, our revelation and our epiphany – if it comes from the Lord – entails participating in the uprising of justice, the insurgence of grace, the coup of mercy, the turning over of tables and the mutiny of sacrificial love. Be afraid, Herod, be very afraid. It’s Epiphany. The world is about to turn.”
To better understand the Biblical context and how it applies to us today, a change of garb to that of a people long ago from far, far away might be helpful… (Speaker puts on robe and turban to enter the character of a Magnus)
This birth of which you have heard was foretold years ago by Hebrew prophets, witnessed by us foreigners from the East who saw His star at its rising. And such a rising it was! Such portents in the heavens! A conjunction of the heavenly bodies such is seen maybe once in a lifetime if not once a millennium! Then the brilliant appearance of a new star blazing so bright it could be seen even in the day, followed by that heavenly star-summons with a tail stretched across the heavens to show us the direction we could go to find Him! How could we not seek Him out, we who lived in his Lifetime on this Earth? So we traveled long and came to pay homage to a king – a Great King not even of our own people or faith.
We stopped, as the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew will tell you, in Jerusalem, surely the seat of power for the local ruling family and the potential location for a new monarch to be born? But no, the King Herod we met could not be the one – heavens forbid! His countenance was dark, his disposition deeply disturbing and his politics so tyrannical we had not experienced anything like it for centuries in our own civilizations. No, he was not the one, nor any of his children. Lord of Lights preserve these people from their own! But we inquired there at first, thinking it would be right. Their king summoned learned ones of this strange land of the Hebrew people under Roman rule – learned ones called Scribes to find out from their ancient texts what might known…and they revealed all to us, to we who came from so far away by long and weary travel to seek the One who was foretold in the heavens by our sacred arts – the one who was born King of the Jews.
Yes, they told us all…between their words and glances we could see their fear of their king. No, they could not go with us to show us the way, but the town is known, they said, it is Bethlehem, which in their tongue means “House of Gods” but is commonly referred to by them as the City of David, so named after one of their kings from long ago who conquered the region and established their monotheistic faith in place of the polytheistic agrarian beliefs of an earlier people. We were admonished by their king to go and find the child, then return to him so that he might go to pay him homage as well…how strange a request; why wouldn’t he go and come with us if it would give him the chance to welcome his successor and perhaps the liberator of his people?
We were uncomfortable with how this sat, but we set out again from Jerusalem south and southwest toward the region of Bethlehem, to find the new King. As we left King Herod’s city, once again the star shone for us, and then we truly realized it had been hidden from us while we searched Jerusalem for word. Now, away from the political intrigue we sensed it shone again and led us onward. We were very uncomfortable, but in a foreign land under a foreign ruler, we thought it best to keep the peace, following all we were asked to do until we were back in the far distant safety of our homeland. But it was not to be, for we dreamed…a true vision…but I am getting ahead of myself.
We followed the star that led us to Bethlehem, and we found the house where the new king so foretold lived. So plain! Hidden in plain sight among the lowly, so our suspicions must be true – that the true lineage of this subjugated people was still hidden in the populace bidding its time until, and only until, the time would be right to reclaim its own. So we unwrapped gifts fit for a king who bides his time and builds his power in secret until his maturity and the time of his destiny would arrive. Once we were safely hid in the house, we greeted the child and bowed down low as befits Such a One, showing by our manners that we did Him, the true King of the Jews, homage. Then we spoke with his parents of the portents we had seen in the heavens and interpreted by our arts. Here, here was the one destined to be King of the Hebrew people, we said. True nobility resides here, hidden in this place. After much talk we made plans to take our rest and re-provision there in preparation for our journey home.
But then that night, we dreamed…not just any dream but a true vision of what was to come, of who the Child really was, and how when we awoke we must not return to Herod but creep away to our country by another road. It was the most powerful vision I have experienced in all my days. So powerful that upon awaking and conferring with my fellows, we revealed all to the Holy Family and partook of ourselves that very day in secret, leaving by another road.
That is the story of the beginning of God’s mission to the Gentiles; the beginning of God’s revelation for the redemption of the whole of humanity, in deed of all life and the entire cosmos as we are able to fathom it. But that is not the end of the story. Paul takes up the same story, the same mission to the Gentiles, the same holy mystery; he writes, that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…to make everyone see…the wisdom of God in its rich variety…the boundless riches of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:6-10 selected verses)
You and I both know that Paul is not the end of the story, either. Somewhere along the line, a Gentile or Hebrew believer taught another foreigner of the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the way, that foreigner was struck dumb with joy that the Lord of Creation, of Earth and Sky, would so love this world that he would send his only Son, a body of his own incarnation, to live as one of us, teach and show us a better way, die and be raised again to life for us and our behalf then to ascend back unto God’s inaccessible Light to breathe anew the Holy Spirit into this breath-filled living earth and all her creatures. And that foreigner taught your mentor’s mentor, who taught your mentor, who taught you about God, God’s Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. About Truth, Peace, Joy, Faith, Hope and Love. And the greatest of these is Love.
God is Love, says the Apostle John, the one who was rumored to have reclined at the table against Jesus – and there heard the living heartbeat of God. Come; come to the table of grace, for this table is for all people, from all places, all times, From North and South, East and West. Come, for the table awaits and our Lord bids you feast. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
In Epiphany when the magi make their great journey to see the Christ Child, we see Jesus drawing all creation to the divine life revealed in him, and we see the realization of God’s dream of reconciled creation. In our own way, we are each endowed by the Spirit with unique and precious gifts for sharing God’s healing love in a good but often divided world. What spiritual practices do you engage in that allow you to stay peaceful, courteous, and develop a respectful regard for difference? How do you stay present and create openness for finding, revealing, and activating God’s reconciling love in the world?
Household Prayer: Morning
Glorious God, each day provides opportunity to awaken to the radiance of your presence, and to welcome your blessing into my life. How often I forget that I am your home! Help me to draw more closely to you, that I may manifest your love more deeply in the world. May every bright place and darkened corner grow ever more luminous as I bear your light this day. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Holy Jesus, I thank you for sharing your life with me today. As darkness comes and blankets the earth, be with all who suffer from sickness, hunger, or lack of shelter. Kindle in them the warmth of your presence, and surround them with your steadfast care. I am grateful for the blessings of this day. And in the light of your love I rest this night. Amen.
 Samantha Haycock, “Gifts for the Journey,” in Following the Star, accessed December 31, 2018, http://d365.org/devotions/gifts-of-the-journey-december-31-2018/.
 Jill Duffield, “Looking into the Lectionary – Epiphany,” accessed January 4, 2019, http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1102135377571&ca=e2c2e51b-1a87-4c5b-a0ca-eb8138a39c13
 J. Philip Newell, Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1997).