Today’s the day we’re celebrating Epiphany - the day that the Magi arrived to visit Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in their home in Bethlehem. It’s technically celebrated on January 6th, which is the 12th day of Christmas. Epiphany is derived from the greek word “epipháneia” which basically means a “striking appearance” or “manifestation” - and it was used primarily in ancient Greek to refer to the manifestation of gods to worshippers.
In casual use today, we talk about having an Epiphany as having an “aha” moment, or when the lightbulb goes off over our heads -- but if we consider the way this word has been used - and we consider our scripture texts from Matthew and the passage from Isaiah we heard read at the start of worship, having an epiphany becomes deeper. An epiphany is a revelation - something that once was in darkness and concealed from you and that is now brought to light.
When we talk about the Magi having an epiphany, they literally saw and experienced the Word made Flesh, Love Incarnate, God-with-Us -- and understood Jesus’s presence as salvation for all humankind.
The Magi followed the star to the place where Jesus dwelled. Isaiah spoke of the light that would dawn upon the nations. Both these images point to God’s revealing light as a gift for a people trapped in darkness...in fear...in worry...this was true in the time of Jesus as the people longed for someone to deliver them from the oppression of empire...from their poverty and their hunger...from violence and threats of violence...and I think it’s not a stretch of the imagination to realize that there are places in our world, in our community, and even in our lives where darkness dwells...places where God’s light yet needs to shine.
The light of the star brought hope to a people in need of hope - it revealed that God was doing a new thing in the world. The Magi were open enough to follow the star wherever it led, searching for what its light would make manifest. They saw and experienced the child Jesus, salvation in the flesh...and it changed them. After this epiphany, their lives as they knew it would be different as even the mere encounter with Christ meant they had to go home by a different road - literally and figuratively. Our own encounters with Christ, too, leave us changed - enable us to see ourselves and others in a new light.
I love how Epiphany comes at the beginning of the year - because I think we, too, are invited to follow the light of the star to see what God’s gift to us might be in the coming year. I don’t know about you, but I’m so done with New Year’s Resolutions. I can never keep them, and all they do for me is serve as one more thing to try and do that I know I won’t be able to keep well. New Year’s Resolutions - for me - are far more often a curse than a gift.
What I want to suggest instead, as we think about the new year, as we consider what God might reveal to us as we seek to follow Christ, is that we open ourselves up to this light in our own lives. On our tree this year were a bunch of words - words that have companioned us as we’ve worshipped together over Advent and Christmas. Words that invite us and open us up to the gift of God in a whole new way.
“It is a prayer practice in churches all over the world to give people a star word
On this Epiphany Sunday.
There are many reasons behind this tradition.
First, we know that the Magi followed a star, which ultimately led them to Jesus.
Therefore, we too use all the resources we have available to us--
including creative prayer practices and intention words for the new year--
to move closer to Jesus.
Secondly, we trust that God uses multiple ways to guide us and speak to us.
Star words are one such lens that might provide us with a way to look for God in our midst,
Both actively and in hindsight.
Finally, we know that the most common prayer practice for many involves speaking to God
As opposed to silence or contemplation.
However, this prayer practice invites a new prayer rhythm of reflection and review
That can be a powerful new way to connect with God.” A Sanctified Art
The downside is that we aren’t all together for you to draw a star word off the tree - but we will have a basket of them in the narthex or we can mail one to you. This word - consider it a gift to be unwrapped and unpacked over this year. It may be a word that immediately resonates or it may be a word that you’ll have to sit with for awhile. You can exchange it for a different one - I’m not going to be the star police, and if I have them out in a basket in the sanctuary, I’m never going to know - but I do encourage you to trust the word you receive…and hang it up where you will be sure to see it every day - on a bathroom mirror, or computer screen, or refridgerator. And over the course of the year, allow the word to speak to you. What does it mean for your life now -- or for where you’ve been or where you feel called to go? What is God saying to you in this word? What is God revealing?
At the end of this year, we’ll do some star word sharing together about what lessons we’ve been learning - about God, about ourselves - that we’ve discovered through the journey with our words.
And so I offer this blessing as we begin our star word journey:
WHERE THE MAP BEGINS
A Blessing for Epiphany - Jan Richardson
This is not
any map you know.
Do not think
or of plotting
the most direct route.
Astrolabe, sextant, compass:
these will not help you here.
This is the map
that begins with a star.
This is the chart
that starts with fire,
with an ancient light
that has outlasted
Look starward once,
then look away.
Close your eyes
and see how the map
begins to blossom
behind your lids,
how it constellates,
its lines stretching out
from where you stand.
You cannot see it all,
cannot divine the way
it will turn and spiral,
cannot perceive how
the road you walk
will lead you finally inside,
through the labyrinth
of your own heart
But step out
and you will know
what the wise who traveled
this path before you
the treasure in this map
is buried not at journey’s end
but at its beginning.
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Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.