Epiphany 2015 – Seeing Stars
January 4, 2015
“a star shall come out of Jacob…”
That particular verse isn’t from any of our readings today,
but it is from the Hebrew Torah, the book of Numbers,
and for centuries Jews remembered that verse and heard it as a symbol for the messiah.
‘a star shall come out of Jacob…’
Magi from the east Matthew says,
saw such a star,
and followed it to Bethlehem.
On my way home from visiting family in Massachusetts the other day,
I listened to an audiobook in the car.
It’s Rob Bell’s book, “What We Talk About When We Talk About God.”
Bell frames the book around 3 words:
With; For; and Ahead.
Putting it very simply,
Bell’s premise is that when we talk about God,
we talk about a God who is with us,
a God who is for us,
and a God who is ahead of us – pulling us along.
In his section on God who is with us,
Bell reminds us that all of us have had experiences
that have pointed us to something more, something deeper, something fuller.
They are times in our lives when we just know that whatever is happening now, at this moment
is somehow significant.
It may be that Christmas gift crocheted at a bedside
or the card from a friend going through a divorce.
It may be a poem which gives you chills.
or a spectacular view of the ocean or forest or desert or mountains.
It may be the beauty of a morning run which touches your soul.
or a star rising in the sky that you just have to explore.
You can’t explain it, you just know,
that this moment is important…
Bell would say that these times are glimpses of God with us.
They’re epiphanies, revelations, manifestations of God.
Last week I was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
There was a special exhibit by Jamie Wyeth.
I don’t know a lot about Jamie Wyeth (aside from the fact he has some good art genes!),
but there was one particular painting which stood out for me.
There was one painting that I needed to spend some time with.
There was one work which I just knew I was meant to see –
that standing in front of it I knew it was significant.
It was holy.
It was as if a star had risen over it.
Now with that build up,
I hesitate to tell you what painting it was!
Maybe you wouldn’t see stars over it.
But for me it was significant.
The painting is called “Southern Light”
and Wyeth depicts his wife
emerging from the doorway of a white clapboard bell tower in Maine,
looking pale and thin, but strong.
The explanation of the painting
said that he painted his wife recovering from serious illness.
There were a lot of people looking at the painting that afternoon.
But I knew, I just knew that that painting was meant for me.
I’d come to Boston for Christmas and saw my mother
for the first time since she’s started radiation and chemotherapy.
She was looking pale and thin, …but strong.
I can’t explain it,
but seeing that painting was for me an awareness of God with us – God with me – God with her;
it was like seeing a star.
It was holy.
The magi see a star and recognize it as being something meaningful…
They know somehow that it points to something deeper, something fuller.
They follow this sign of “God with us.”
A number of years ago after seminary, I attended an interfaith academy in Kansas City
where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, and one Zoroastrian man
got together to talk about faith
and things written in our Scriptures
and things quite frankly we wish our Scriptures didn’t say.
My Zoroastrian friend sent me an email every Epiphany for a few years after that,
reminding me that many scholars believe that the magi
were Zoroastrian priests from Persia,
star-gazers and astrologers.
Matthew gives us quite a bit of detail about how these magi arrive in Bethlehem.
They come from the east.
They get to Jerusalem and get a little lost
and so ask Herod (of all people) for directions.
They see the star rise again
over Bethlehem – just 9 miles away – and then it finally stops.
The magi are overjoyed that their journey is over,
but when they see the child with his mother,
they are overcome with the holiness in this moment,
and they drop to their knees…
In our best moments, isn’t that why we come to worship?
We’re after a star.
We’re searching for the holy.
I borrowed a welcome statement for our bulletins today.
It’s from the church I visited last week.
It says: “You are in the right place.”
And I believe you are.
It might not have been easy to get here.
If your Sunday morning was like mine,
you hit the snooze button a couple of times;
bleary-eyed you banged your knee on the way to the kitchen to make coffee;
you can’t remember whether or not you fed the dog
(though she’s pretty sure you didn’t!);
you left dishes in the sink and an unmade bed…
running out the door…without your umbrella.
It wasn’t the most gracious leaving.
But you arrived in the right place.
Today in bread and wine,
in water and word and other worshippers,
we’re searching for something that we hope will connect us with something far beyond ourselves;
something we call God.
After the magi see the baby,
they are warned in a dream about Herod,
and so they go home by another way.
We want to go home from here by another way too…
We want to be different people after being here.
We want to learn to live our lives so that we are aware
that it isn’t just the moments here together that are holy,
but that every moment is holy;
every encounter means something;
We want to live our lives knowing that every person matters;
black lives matter;
transgender youth lives matter;
Syrian refugee lives matter;
Your life matters.
We want to see stars not just in church and not just on Sundays,
but in our homes and workplaces;
schools and streets.
God is with us.
Everywhere and always.
May we see stars…
(and without someone knocking us on the side of the head!)