In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise ones from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Each year on Epiphany Sunday, our church , and many other churches around the globe have adopted a custom of handing out Star Words. I'm not sure where this idea started; my clergy friends and I have been doing it in our respective churches as long as we've been pastoring- but I do know it's developed into a tradition for us, and something we look forward to each year. Epiphany always arrives on the day after the last day of the Christmas season- January 6, so if you were to actually count the 12 days of Christmas, (yes, it' a real thing) yesterday was day 12... which means (ta da!) today marks the dawning of a brand new season of the church year. It's called, as if you haven't guessed- Epiphany!
The word, Epiphany, means "awakening." The hope is that through the Christmas season, after witnessing the birth of Christ, our hearts will be stirred to look for signs of the Spirit everywhere- that we will have been sensitized during the season of Christmas, the season where we catch a glimpse of our own goodness and the goodness of humankind- through Christ, that we become seekers of something greater than ourselves. It's a small window of time after Christmas, when the heart is still open and soft and vulnerable- when the scent of hope still lingers in the air like the smell of pine needles, or fresh bread, or in our house, garlic bread...
But in this soft, vulnerable time, when we are reluctant to move back into the rush and routine of life and all that brings with it, there is a very special, but more silent celebration going on within us- our personal spiritual journeys thanks to Christmas, have been reshaped, we've felt something, even if slight, shift within us over this holiday... the light of the Christ candle has not grown dim.
Aware that a new star has risen, and sensing the birth of something wonderful has taken place, the wise ones among us follow that light; seek, and journey, and worship, bringing their gifts to the one who is light and love incarnate.
The story we just read talks about a particular group of wise ones who followed a star - they were most likely astrologers- people who studied the heavens. Looking at the heavens was their job- their profession- the way they made their living- the way they spent the bulk of their day. And this is important for us to recognize, because a new star just showing up would have been the most logical, obvious way God could have gotten the attention of this particular group of people.
That being said, could the wise ones have gone about their day, checking the sky charts, sipping Starbucks and scrolling facebook and have never noticed the new star? Probably... It's amazing how many things we miss- including and especially signs from God- because we're preoccupied with ourselves, our lives, everyone else's lives- or otherwise stuck in our own heads... But God sends "stars" every day- God seeks to get our attention every day- comes in the most obvious and unique ways for us to recognize the light.
Last week we took a few moments to think about the ways we've seen God move in our lives this past year. Then we shared our stories with one another. It was wonderful to see most if not all of us come up with something. The star word is another way we look for signs of God in our lives.