God’s light has come into the world, is in you and me, and together we can see it, know it, follow it, and with all God’s children, find God’s healing and hope.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord
Texts: Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
On December 22nd, at dusk, Mary, Peter, and I went looking for the star.
We drove away from the neighborhood lights, toward a nearby park that had a hill. Sure enough, climbing that hill, we found what we sought in the southwest skies.
The great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn was at its closest and clearest in hundreds of years, and at its clearest. In 1614, the astronomer Johannes Kepler determined there were three such conjunctions in the year 7 B.C.E. and speculated that they were behind Matthew’s report of a star announcing Jesus’ birth. The papers were calling this year’s event the Christmas star.
It was profoundly moving, standing in the cold wind, seeing the two planets so close to each other. I told Peter the history behind why people thought this could be what was in the skies around Jesus’ birth. I’ve taught that before. But I needed my phone’s application to know where to look. When you move your phone around toward the sky it shows the names of what you’re looking at. Otherwise, we’d’ve had no idea.
Matthew’s Magi needed no such help.
They studied the skies, studied star charts, as humans have done for millennia. They believed the movement of constellations and planets affected life on earth, and saw enough of significance that they made their journey westward.
They did need some help, though. Their knowledge only got them to Jerusalem. They needed Hebrew scribes to see if there was any mention in Scripture of the location of Messiah’s birth to get the last step of their journey.
They traveled with gifts for a king, and found a poor young family in a little house in Bethlehem. But they were satisfied. They saw God’s epiphany before them, the very appearance of God in their midst. They watched for their epiphany, and knew what to do when they saw it.
We’re not often like that.
We certainly long for clarity from God, for epiphany. We want to see God’s appearing in our midst, and we regret that we don’t often get clear signs of where God is in our world, especially in these days. We’re sitting around copying the shepherds, waiting for God to show up and startle us, do something flashy to let us in on what’s going on. We’d do better to imitate the Magi, and learn to look for ourselves.
“Lift up your eyes and look around,” Isaiah says today, and you will see God’s light shining into the world. You will see people coming from all over the world to the light of God that shines in the darkness. The story of Epiphany is that God enters the world with gentle light, not force, and through that light, draws all into a new way of love and grace.
So lift up your eyes. Look around for the signs of the Triune God’s coming into our world.
See the signs of God’s love and grace that shine out of God’s Word, giving promise and hope to a world suffering under so much evil and oppression. See the signs that God has come in person not only in Jesus the Christ, but in you, in me. Look for the signs that God’s life in Jesus is within you, shining and leading others to God’s light in the darkness of a world of war, terror, and uncertainty. Watch for the signs that we are the body of Christ to one another and to the world.
And then follow those signs. Because the Magi not only saw. They got up and followed. They said, “we have seen his star and have come to worship him.” Copy them, and let these signs of God’s epiphany guide your life.
There’s another important thing to notice about the Magi, though.
They didn’t do this alone. Matthew mentions three gifts, so we assume three Magi. He doesn’t actually say how many, just more than one. These travelers didn’t watch the skies alone, didn’t travel alone, and found God’s coming together. They had each other to help see, understand, navigate.
And they had that help in Jerusalem. They weren’t afraid to ask if there was anyone who knew more about what they sought. They not only had each other, they actively sought more learning and understanding from others.
Our community of faith is so vital for seeing God’s epiphany and for following. In separation it’s far harder to experience this community, so keep doing what you can. Take advantage of opportunities your fellow believers here are offering for online connection. Use the phone and call. Write someone. But until we can be together again, remember it’s your community of faith that helps you see, understand, navigate, as you follow God’s signs.
And don’t stop seeking help, learning what’s happening in the world, asking if others have seen God’s coming. There’s a lot of wisdom out there, if you’re not afraid to ask.
When we got to that hilltop and saw the conjunction, I realized something.
I had actually seen those two stars before getting in the car, just over the roof of our neighbors’ houses. I didn’t know what I was seeing. Seeing them on the hilltop, I realized the sign was at my house already.
Today’s celebration teaches you what we’re looking for. Shows you what the signs of God’s light are. And, like those two lights in the southwest, you may find you’ve been looking at God’s coming all along and just didn’t know it.
So let’s watch, together, and learn, together, and follow, together, until we see for ourselves that God has come, and is shining in you, in me, and in so many, to bring hope and healing to this world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen