by Louise Westfall
I got a star for Christmas. My niece found an internet ad selling “star deeds,” and bought one for each of her uncles and aunts. Now as I gaze at the night sky, I know there is one star in the heavens with my name on it. (and I have the deed to prove it! — registered with the Millennium Chronicle, NOT associated with NASA or the United States government in any way, shape, or form).
Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.
I honestly don’t know how the custom of wishing on a star developed, but I’ll bet it’s been around a long time. Since the very beginning, humans have used the night sky for navigation, to find their way in the dark. Almost every culture and religion use physical light as a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment. A star … a single candle held aloft … a light bulb over the head … all suggest revelation, an epiphany, an “aha” moment when what was previously clouded or shrouded in darkness is brought to light. Epiphany (or 12th Night) celebrates the journey of the Persian Magi, who interpreted the appearance of a particular star as a sign that pointed to the fulfillment of a wish they had long desired. The star guided them to the place where they knelt in humble worship and offered gifts before an infant they understood to be the Ruler of Peace. We celebrate Epiphany today as the revelation of God’s powerful presence in a human being, Jesus of Nazareth.
And what better way to begin a new year than to consider how that long-ago revelation affects it? Does Christ’s appearance on earth shed light on the complexities of our twenty-first century lives?
The Scripture text for today was first proclaimed to God’s people in exile. Their nation had been defeated in battle, the temple destroyed, and their trust in the good purposes of God shattered. I’m sure they responded to these realities much as we do: some adopting a cynical, self-protective posture; others with hand-wringing and worry; some with discouragement, others with determination. No doubt there were nay-sayers and doubters and people whose personal concerns were so sharp that they simply tuned out the larger picture. The prophet stood among them all and proclaimed a counterpoint, one based on his understanding of how God works. A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, in the sixtieth chapter at the first verse. Bring your own unfulfilled wishes, the hopes and fears you harbor today; whatever shadows obscure the light for you; the persistent questions or constraints in your own life that defy resolution — and hear God’s Word. [Isaiah 60:1-5a, 18-21]
The words of the prophet remind us that illumination is a gift. It’s not something we can produce or manufacture, or control with the flick of a switch. It’s not a reward bestowed upon us for good behavior. In fact, it’s really less about making resolutions than about receiving revelation. Light, from the One who is light.
But something IS required of us. We have to LOOK. Get woke. Search beyond our own little lives and peer into the heart of the world. The places of pain and suffering. The night sky of shadows and longing. Look and see. See what God is doing. Find the places where God is at work. Discover the people and experiences where God is restoring and saving and making new. You and I can be mirrors reflecting that light, and together be a beacon which draws others to the light. Not because we see it all, but because we’re looking for it, scanning the far horizon as well as the faces of those near and dear. In the Buddhist tradition it’s called “mindfulness” an intention to be present and aware in every moment. The Christian faith has prophets who warn us of the danger of falling asleep too soon. Arise, shine, for your light has come!
Epiphanies seem to happen most often where there is communion; where there is shared commitment to journey together, led by the light.
So we begin this New Year at the spiritual equivalent of an ophthalmologist: the Lord’s Table, to eat and drink in the light, to have our vision checked and corrections made. And we will receive a symbolic star to represent the light that has come to illumine the deepest night. [Ushers, please come forward and stand before the congregation] A star, to help us experience God’s grace at the heart of reality, even when it is obscured. A star to remind us of our calling to be light-bearers, wise men and women in whose actions and by whose love others can find their way. I don’t think it’s coincidental that there were several Magi. Epiphanies seem to happen most often where there is communion; where there is shared commitment to journey together, led by the light. So the first star to be drawn out will be Central’s word by which to set our course and move forward. [ASK FOR VOLUNTEER TO DRAW OUT STAR AND READ ITS WORD] Now I invite the ushers to distribute stars to everyone. Let its word illumine your life in 2019. Consider what God might be calling you to do or become through the light of this star. You might not even know now what this word might mean for you. Put it where you can see it daily; jot down some thoughts about how to engage this word, or what it evokes in you. Pray for God to show you what specific actions or steps to take. I’d love to hear your stories — your insights can become a witness to the light of Christ for the rest of us. And feel free to draw a star for someone you know who is seeking guidance and light for their lives, and give it to them with your promise to journey with them.
There’s nothing magical in these stars. But let them be for us a way to tap the mystery and miracle of God’s presence and power. I can’t wait to see the ways we’ll be changed because we tried to walk in the light. Please remain seated to join in singing a joyful response, hymn 155.