Happy Epiphany! I am not sure what the proper greeting for this Christian season is, but I love a liturgical moment to stop and wonder. When the world has moved on from Christmas and the stores have already begun put out Valentine’s Day hearts on the shelves, this weekend Christians celebrate the manifestation of the Divine and how the Spirit guides the way with stars and accompanies those still seeking.
Mary Luti writes that Epiphany is:
“A season of signs, it starts with a star in the east and ends with fire on a mountain.
A season of voices, it starts with directions in a dream and ends with acknowledgment from a cloud.
A season of unveilings, it starts with a glimpse of baby skin and ends with a display of gleaming garments.
A season of worship, it starts with the homage of kings and ends with the prostration of disciples.
In the dead of winter, the church gives us God-sightings, gives them as if to persuade us that our world only appears solid, still, dark, and cold, but is in fact stirring all the time, ardent, vivid, and porous… Seeking is never over, there is always more to find. But in Epiphany, the Spirit seems to desire for us a momentary end of seeking…She lights the lamp and leads us: “Come closer,” she says. “You’re getting warm. Now over here. A little more. Yes, yes. Now do you see…?”
Our world only appears solid, still, dark and cold, but it is always stirring… Maybe epiphany is like that whisper or that gut feeling or that thing that keeps coming your way and you get the feeling that the Universe or God or the Force, or whatever name you give it, is trying to get a message to you?
It might be one you were waiting for or one you weren’t expecting.
There have been various points in my life where I thought God gave me a sign or a message, but for the most part it was only when I looked back that I could connect the dots of the signs and wonders completely.
This makes me think of the words of Sheldon Vanauken who said, “Signs must be read with caution. The history of Christendom is replete with instances of people who misread the signs.”
Perhaps God is always trying to get to us, but maybe there are moments or seasons in our lives where particular messages are needed, like maybe when we are at a crossroads or in need of a major change or seeking to make meaning out of something or when something new is breaking through. I wonder if in these times, we can look for signs.
In the story we heard from the Gospel of Matthew, the author or authors want us, the readers, to experience, to see the all of the signs- signs that point to the connection between this new baby and all of Jewish history, from Moses to Jesus, from a Pharaoh who kills, to a Herod who kills, signs of bondage to freedom, through Egypt to Bethlehem. Signs in the dreams of Joseph and in the dreams of the Magi’s warning them it wasn’t safe to go back, signs that everything would be different with the final line, “they had to return home by another road.” And the star shows up four times and points them to Judea and then to Jesus. That is how we know it is a sign deserving of our attention, it happens multiple times.
Something new was breaking through and there were signs. Surprising, beautiful, bizarre and unbelievable signs and that itself is remarkable, but what if this story isn’t just about how God tries to get to us with signs, but how we respond.
It is not just what is being revealed around us and to us and among us, but how do we respond? What direction do we travel when something surprising and seemingly sacred shows up?
In the 1989 movie Field of Dreams Ray Kinsella an Iowa farmer, walks through his cornfield one evening and he hears a voice whispering, “If you build it, he will come.” He continues hearing this before finally seeing a vision of a baseball diamond in his field, which his family eventually constructs. Over the course of the story, signs from what seems like another realm show up in the form of dreams and whispers and connections beyond normal perception. And choosing to pay attention to these bizarre signs ultimately gave Ray healing as embarking on that journey allowed him to make amends for never forgiving his father or being forgiven himself.
I have never had a sign from the Universe quite like Ray. Instead for me they have been more gentle signs like when our cousin was on her way home to Portland and turned around because of instinct. She caught Eliza when she was born in 2011. Or signs for me have been like Sandy Hietala showing up at a worship service in 2015 to say we should explore gathering here.
Maybe Epiphany isn’t just about the wonders and signs being revealed around us and to us and among us, but how we respond? Do we pay attention? Do we do something about that message we got? Do we cultivate an inner space to listen to the whispers and lights? Do we not dismiss surprises? Do we welcome wonder?
Just as there is a star in the story for today, there is an Epiphany star with a word here for each of you. Last year my word was acceptance and it came to have multiple meanings for me, rich with hope and healing.
What signs are there for you this year? In these moments you are invited to come forward as you are comfortable and take a star. Pick a star, or let the star pick you. Don’t turn it over, until you have already picked the one you want. In Epiphany, the Spirit seems to desire for us a momentary end of seeking…She lights the lamp and leads us: “Come closer,” she says. “You’re getting warm. Now over here. A little more. Yes, yes. Now do you see…?”
Let us pay attention, let us do something about that message we got, let us cultivate an inner space to listen to the whispers and lights. Let us not dismiss surprises. Let us welcome wonder. What is your sign?