A homily preached by Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli at St. Matthew’s UMC January 5, 2014, the Epiphany of the Lord.
Text: Matthew 2:1-12
I remember a time at Camp Egan in Tahlequah, Oklahoma when I was with my family on retreat with my church, 1st Methodist of Sapulpa. I had joined in the small group time with the adults—I don’t remember how old I was, but couldn’t have been more than 12. The memory is crystal clear: we were in the outdoor “Tabernacle” near the creek; the small group time had just finished; and for some reason, Cliff Brown—a man I had known as part of my church family since I was a toddler—said, “Listen, God loves you. And there’s nothing you can do about it…” And then he went on to quote from Romans 8: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Why do I remember this so clearly? Well, it was a gift. Cliff Brown shared so much with me that day: an assurance of God’s love for me, a sign of Cliff’s love for me, and a powerful witness to his own faith. Cliff held the light of Christ for me. And there were many others: Helen Vance my 3rd grade Sunday School teacher; my youth leaders: Greg, Becky, Sandy, Mary Jane; Farley Snell, my teacher and mentor in college; friends in seminary who cared for me when I was unwell and had lost myself; and on it goes. These people and so many more have been lights guiding my journey. They have led me to relationship with Jesus Christ—through their words, their example, and their love.
On this Epiphany Sunday, we hear the story of the wise men and the “star of wonder.” What is so wonderful about that star? I’m sure it was bright and beautiful and that it, like all stars, made people stop and say, “wow!” But the truly wonderful thing about it is that it led people who were far away to relationship with Jesus the Christ. Most scholars agree that it took the magi three years to finally find the child (and that they probably found him after the family was settled in Nazareth); so that wonderful star kept shining all those years, encouraging the wise men to keep going, to keep searching, to keep hoping in what they would find.
That first Christmas star has faded now, but the light still shines. It shines where the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ is told. It shines in people like Cliff Brown. I imagine you could think of at least one person who has been the guiding “star” for you, the person or people who have guided you to relationship with Jesus, to a deeper awareness of God’s love for you, to that humbling and liberating promise of mercy and forgiveness… This is the wonder of the star, the wonder of the light: the way that it leads us to and connects us with the wonders of God’s love, compassion, and peace.
Today there are so many people who don’t know or believe how much God loves them and wants to offer them compassion, freedom, forgiveness, purpose, and new life. There are so many people who don’t realize these treasures that await them if only they will open their hearts to God’s love. Most likely, it will take years for many of them to make the journey to where Jesus the Christ is—if they even decide to seek at all. Some who do set out will get discouraged on the way. Some will get turned around and land in the wrong place. But the one thing I can promise is this: no one will have the courage to seek the Christ without a star to guide them; and they will need a star that doesn’t fade out but that remains steady and sure. You and I, having been brought to the brightness of God’s love in Jesus the Christ are the ones called to bear the light for others. Cliff and Helen and Farley and the rest weren’t super-human. I know they were far from perfect. They were just like you and me. And they were willing to be light in my life and to lead me to the Light of the world. You can do that for someone. You can be the “star of wonder” for someone.
Over these past weeks we have been singing that “the light that is shining is our light to hold.” This refrain is part of the song we’ll hear and sing in a moment. The first full stanza reads: “Star, you must fade, for your journey is done, New Year rides onward now, Christmas is gone, carry the light with us as we move on…We are the company, foolish and wise, rich in a faith that all reason defies, crossing the borders of culture and race, leading by lifestyle, forgiveness and grace. And the light that is shining is our light to hold, facing, embracing the darkness and cold, light that’s not hidden where Good News is told: the hope that is born with Christ Jesus!”
The light IS shining and it is yours to hold…to guide others to the wonders of God’s love.