Needless to say, when my wife brought our son down the aisle of the sanctuary and placed him in my arms for the first song during Christmas Eve worship, he was on star-overload. I leaned my head against his and followed his finger as he pointed and announced to anyone within earshot every single star he found in the sacred space.
Even the one on the screen behind us...STAR!
During the prayer of confession...STAR!
They appeared almost too fast for my twenty-month-old son to notice. They were appearing everywhere and he was overwhelmed with joy.
This coming Sunday, January 6th, the church universal celebrates Epiphany. After 12 Days of festive observation of Christmas, Epiphany meets us on the heals of the narrative and recollects God's appearance to the magi from the East. While we may want to lump the "wise men" into our nativity scenes for the purposes of Christmas decor, the reality is that they did not show up for the party until later...much later.
"In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, 'Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage'... 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." (Matthew 2:1-2, 10-12).
It may have been up to 2 years later, given the ages of the victims of Caesar Augustus' massacre and the fact that the Holy Family was no longer behind the inn rather in a house (2:11).
But so what about Epiphany?
Up to this point in the Christmas story we have heard much about the salvation and deliverance through this Messiah for the people of Israel. But now we have magi and wisdom teachers showing up from the East. They follow this obscure and brilliant rising star and pay homage to this king.
But are they not from Babylon?
Do they not dwell among the Gentiles?
Is it true that this story and the hope offered through Jesus' life, teachings, death, and resurrection will be for all the world, to include those East of Jerusalem where Jesus' ancestors were once held captive?
Epiphany is a reminder of the far reach and universal scope of God's love incarnated in this one called Immanuel, God with us.
Epiphany is reasonable cause to consider that just maybe the deliverance offered through this one named Jesus, "YHWH saves," is not only for a select group of people but also and especially for the whole world.
Epiphany is a day, some traditions celebrate it all the way to Lent, when we contemplate and consider God's appearance in flesh and bone- a child. Epiphany is a liturgical response to the Christmas story and launches a new way of being, doing, loving, serving, hoping, dreaming, longing, expecting, wondering, wandering, and praying that God would continue to make God's self known to us and the whole world.
This we do even during Ordinary Time, which begins on Monday.
So while we may think, "Christmas went too fast," and begin counting down the days until the season meets us again next December, Epiphany bids us something different.
Epiphany beckons us to look for stars rising up all around. We are to have our eyes wide open, our arms extended, and our fingers pointed to signs and symbols that God is indeed among us- even beyond climactic seasons of our liturgical year.
So maybe we should pay more homage to Epiphany?
We should at least use this day, and every day, to consider where and how God may lead us in new directions, down other roads, as we seek to extend the love and joy found in Christ to our neighbors near and far.
Just for Fun:
"There's an unmistakable missional bent to Epiphany. Jesus, the light of the world, calls us to let our light shine before others (Mt. 5:14-16). Drawn by the light of this star, the Magi came and signaled the universal scope of Christ's mission, where the nations of the world come to worship the King of kings. Epiphany calls us to live God's mission, announcing the good news of Christ's arrival to every culture and to those across the street, bearing the light of Jesus to the nations and to those who share a home with us. We, the church, are sent out as the manifestation of Jesus to a watching world."
Philip Reinders, Seeking God's Face, 107.
12 Days of QR Christmas: A relay game I developed, using QR codes, which helps engage the liturgical significance of each day of Christmas that moves from December 25th and concludes with Epiphany.