How was a slave to find freedom? Harriet Tubman found freedom through a star. By day, she hid in the homes of former slaves, as well as Quakers and abolitionists. By night, she traversed the backwoods of Maryland and Delaware – the North Star, Polaris as her compass, and her only friend on a lonely journey.
On a crisp November morning in 1849, Harriet Tubman crossed into the free state of Pennsylvania. This was the first of what would be more than a dozen journeys along the Underground Railroad. She would help to free more than seventy slaves, and in all of her trips back down South, she never lost a passenger. Years later, Tubman would recall her first visions of freedom: “Stars illumine the world we long for – they dwell above the intersection of expectant hope and realized joy.” http://sardisbaptistcharlotte.org/sermon/following-the-star/
Hope and concerns are at the forefront today as we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. Today is officially the last day of the Christmas season. In the ancient church, Epiphany was the most important day of observance, not Christmas. It is the feast of light. Manifestation. The in-breaking of revelation.
The gospel lesson for Epiphany is always the story of the journey of the Wise men, the Magi, some even call the Three Kings, from the Far East, bringing gifts to bear to the child Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is a story of a story of a star that led the Magi to divine Freedom, hope and a promise of a new life.
Matthew tells us that these Wise Men, the Magi, the learned, scientists/astrologers of the day, were the first foreign people to visit the Child Jesus, the first foreign people who recognized the significance of Jesus’ birth, and deduced who Jesus was. They noted his Star at its rising, took a long risky journey, until the Star seemed to stop over Jesus’ home.
Epiphany for better or worse, brings sudden insight. When we connect the dots on a problem we’ve been sorting out, or we look out at a sunset or gaze at the stars at night and are struck at our place in the universe – when a piece of music transports us… or when a child’s handmade drawing helps us see the truth of a situation – these are epiphanies. Today our lesson, would give us an epiphany, this last day of Christmas, as we follow God’s beckoning into this New Year.
The gift of epiphany, simply put, is that Jesus is our Light. He is the “Bright and morning Star” (Rev. 22:16), “the Light of the world,” (John 8:26) that shines in our heart when we look within. But Jesus’ light is no ordinary light. The rabbinic writers in the Babylonian Talmud, the earliest commentaries on the Hebrew scriptures, talked of a hidden, primordial light of creation, light that God used on the first day of creation, “Let there be light,” is not the same light we experience as coming from our sun; after all, the sun and the moon are not created until day four. Instead, this first, primordial light was unique to God alone. Rabbinic tradition teaches us that this hidden light will shine once again during the days of the Messiah. So this primordial light of creation is Jesus: as the evangelist John declares: Through him all things were made (John1:3); and Psalm 36 tells us: “in your light we see light.” In Jesus, Light Incarnate, Light in which we find light, we see how we are to live. To love. To forgive. To be community. We see that this Christ light is life. It gives us the energy to live and grow and become Christ-light. Star-light.
Scientists tell us we that life as it currently exists cannot live and grow properly without light. We cannot see properly without light. We would not have energy without light. Epiphany celebrates Jesus as the manifestation of light. Holy light from which all things were made. Light that enables us to not just physically survive, but spiritually thrive. Jesus manifests the light we need to manifest our dreams – to confront our concerns.
Epiphany would give us another gift. Yes, Jesus is light. But our true nature, so often forgotten, was forged from the stars. Award-winning author Glenda Burgess writes, “Physicists say we are made of stardust. Intergalactic debris and far-flung atoms, shards of carbon nanomatter rounded up by gravity to circle the sun. As atoms pass through an eternal revolving door of possible form, energy and mass dance in fluid relationship. We are stardust…” It reminds us of that old Joni Mitchell song, “I don't know who I am but life is for learning. We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon, And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
And therein lies our challenge and choice. Do we cover our God-given light, do we close our heart to those wrenching epiphanies of love and faith? The age-old battle of good and evil is real – we know it in our lives, in the choices we make. We know it in the actions our government takes. Yet deep down, we cannot change who we are. Children of Light. Our most ancient of ancestors were the Stars, and their pairticles now structure are being. The universe is bred in our bones. Galaxies flow through our veins. We are not only star-dust we are the channel through which divine light of Jesus flows.
Epiphany gives us the gift of choice. In our lesson from Isaiah, we learn that the people of Israel have been released from captivity from exile to Babylon. What did they find? The Jewish cities were in rubble and their homes were in rubble and their farms were in rubble and their temple was in rubble and their lives were in rubble. Isaiah writes with words of such hope: “Arise, shine, your light has already come…Nations shall come to your light!” In the midst of trouble and despair, the people were directed to light. We can find light, in the choices we make about how we live. Light heals and rebuilds. And so, the people of Israel rebuilt. And their light was renewed. And through this light, the country was healed.
So, Epiphany leaves us precious gifts to begin our year: Jesus is our Light – a light of creation, salvation and growth. Remember that Child’s saying, gazing into the sky chanting “Star light, star bright, First star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, Have this wish I wish tonight.” How often I said that as a girl. The stars never fail to be portent of 0f hopes and dreams.
We too are creatures of light ---made of the stuff of stars. We need to remember from whence we came. What we are. We are meant to shine. But we have a choice. Will we arise and shine? Will we be dream bearers in 2019?
In your bulletin, I am sure by now you have found a star with words on it. These words are for you to meditate on this year. These are the words the stars are sending you to reflect on. What does your star want you to learn, to grow, to spiritually develop in 2019? What is your wish and how does it connect to your star?
Scientist Carl Sagan once said: “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” So, we leave today knowing that the fullest manifestation of light is love. So, arise from your worries. Arise from whatever enslaves you. Arise from whatever detours life has sent you on. Find your journey to freedom. Your Light has formed into words. The Bethlehem Star calls to your essence – so Stardust, arise and shine wherever you are – what word-light beckons you, what light will make a way for you, and show you the way to Christ—and how we can love more deeply, ever more. Amen.