Looking for the Star.
An Epiphany Reflection.
As I was preparing to write a reflection for this Sunday when the church celebrates Epiphany, I turned to my little book of Gospel Meditations written by Fr. Jose Pagola. In part he said:
“It would be naïve not to think that we are living in especially dark, tragic, and distressing times. However, is not this very darkness, frustration, and helplessness, which we are experiencing at this time, one of the features that almost always accompanies human beings on their journey of the earth?”
Following in the Footsteps of Jesus. Meditations of the Gospel for year C. Convivium Press. 2012. Page 40.
I had to stop at that point and look once again at the publication date: December 2012. Nine years ago, and yet, he could have written those words this very day. Dark, tragic, and distressing, fits the way the way that people are feeling right now. I feel like the covid-19 virus is stalking us. One of my grandsons was exposed to the virus and had to isolate just before Christmas. Because of that his whole family, my daughter and son-in -law, and my granddaughter did not join us for Christmas Dinner. This week I learned that one of my other daughters has Covid-19. She is currently out of state so none of us were exposed, her case is mild, and she is healthy, but still, it feels awful. Today I learned that my nephew has it and so does his father, my youngest brother. I am worried, frustrated, and I feel helpless.
This morning after reading the news I checked on family members who live in Colorado, five miles from the fires. They are safe but one of my brother’s employees has a daughter who has lost everything. Fire in December. 1000 structures including 500+ homes are gone. The ground in Colorado is overly dry, starved for moisture, with the first snow of the season just beginning to fall - two months later than normal. Tragic.
It is cold today too and the sun has already set even though it is not yet five o’clock. For some reason, the shortness of the day feels more oppressive than usual. The weather report says we can expect the temperature to fall toward 20 degrees or less so we will need a fire in the woodstove once again. Cold. Dark. Distressing. Tragic. What are people of faith expected to do in these times?
This weekend we mark the Feast of Epiphany, the Feast that speaks of the coming of the Magi from the east, who followed a star to find the Divine Child. It is a story that is only found in the Gospel of Matthew which we read this Sunday. (Matthew 2:12) On Christmas Cards and in children’s Bible storybooks, we see the star over the manger where the Holy Family waits with barnyard animals and shepherds from the fields while the three Magi approach. But that tableau comes from a melding of the stories from Luke and Matthew. The Magi may have begun their journey with a star that rose at the time of the infant’s birth, whenever that might have been – likely the springtime since the shepherds were keeping night watch as they do during lambing season – but the Magi arrived to find Mary and the child Jesus living in a house in Bethlehem. It was after this that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled into Egypt. The point is that it took time to travel. The three wise men, magi, astronomers, scientists, theologians who were star gazers seeking the newborn King of the Jews, traveled over land and it took a significant amount of time.
In the church calendar we move from celebrating Christmas to Celebrating Epiphany in a little over a week. We know on the one hand that it is a story, but on the other hand it is easy for us to approach the Feast as part of that Christmas Tableau; a onetime event that focuses our attention on the birth of Jesus. When we do that, misled by stories and pictures, we miss the great adventure of all who seek the Divine in this world. It is not a onetime event - even though we might have friends who speak of “finding Jesus” on a specific day at a particular hour etc. It is the journey of a lifetime and like any great adventure, it does have its difficulties.
It is outlandish to think of anyone traveling overland by camel using the light of a star to guide them to a particular place. Except for the Sun, stars do not shine down on Earth that way, and even the sun is not like a spotlight. Yes. Yes. It is story, but it is a story designed to tell us something particularly important other than details.
Let us think about who the story was written for. It was certainly not designed for scientists, astronomers, or anyone who can easily break apart the facts of the story. Nor was it designed for those who take every word as literal truth and declare that there was in fact a star that had those very properties at some point two thousand years ago. Instead, the story was written for believers who find themselves in dark, tragic, distressing, and cold times. People who might otherwise be feeling frustrated, helpless and a maybe, more than a little depressed. We have been specifically appointed to be people of the light, who are also people of hope. Perhaps you have forgotten your baptismal promises and the response of those who were present for you?
“You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts.”
Light, which we seek and share with others. Hope, which is grounded in faith; faith, that no matter how dark or cold, tragic, or distressing the times may be, there will be light. The light may be tiny, like a star in the night sky, or it may loom large, like the discovery of a vaccine or effective anti-viral therapy. Wherever it is, we have been appointed not simply to follow it, but to share the hope and the enlightenment that comes with it, to assure friends and family, neighbors, and strangers, that darkness, greed, power, violence, and death will not have the final say.
We can discern for ourselves that the overland journey of the Magi was not an easy one. The story tells us that there were also political enemies, Herod, and his collaborators, who made the trip a great deal more dangerous. These enemies were willing to tell lies to the Magi in order to find and destroy the hope that had newly come into the world. As believers, as human beings living in the world, we will continue to face trials. There are unavoidable disasters and traumas in life and there are people willing to lie and manipulate others to gain whatever power or advantage they can. We cannot allow them to take away the light. We must travel by a different route.
Do not be misled. Our appointed task is not easy, but God is everywhere, even those places that seem to lack love and light, justice, and peace. God is here, incarnate, within Creation, within other people, and is made manifest through acts of love and light. Allow the Divine light to shine through your life, that we may walk always as People of the Light.