This year we hope that is not the case. We hope that we can simultaneously continue some of the feelings of the Christmas season, and the challenge that comes from keeping the Christ child even beyond the Christmas tree and the lights, while also giving due importance to the season of Epiphany; Epiphany is the celebration of God’s presence breaking through to shine as a light in the darkness.
This year on Epiphany Sunday (January 7) each person who comes to church will receive a "star gift." A star gift is simply a card with a picture of a star and a word printed on one side, and a scripture on the other side. Whatever that word you receive on that card, you are invited to reflect on that word for the coming year. You will be invited to ponder what significance this word might have on your lives, and how God might be speaking to you through that simple message.
The star gifts will be passed around to the congregation using the same offering plates that we use in worship to receive our tithes and offerings. As we help ourselves to a star gift (without looking - just reach in and grab!), the significance cannot be lost. In this moment you are not being asked to give, you are being invited to receive. In this moment we are reminded that this is always the order of things in God's realm - God always gives first, and then we are invited to respond with our gifts and ourselves.
The magi who traveled great distances to offer their gifts to the newborn Christ-child were responding to the gift first given to them. They received God's gift, then offered their gifts to God. As we commemorate the arrival of the Magi this coming Sunday, in Matthew 2, and remember their offerings, we delight in this paper reminder that symbolizes God's generosity in our lives.
Everyone who receives a star gift is encouraged to take it home and hang it up where they are sure to see it every day. It may be on the bathroom mirror, or next to the computer screen. Some may keep the star gifts from year to year; gradually accumulating a virtual constellation of wise words and encouragement displayed as a reminder of God’s presence in our lives.
No matter how you treat this card, allow your word to speak to you. Maybe start by looking the word up in the dictionary so that you are clear on its meaning; we hear the word grace all the time, but what exactly does it mean? A word that seemed unclear at the beginning may gain new meaning as the year goes on.
Perhaps your word will seem very timely, as if it was indeed designated specifically for you the recipient in this exact time. It is this sense of serendipity and wondering how God might be working through this simple process that keeps us engaged.
Epiphany is the celebration of God’s presence breaking through to shine as a light in the darkness. Each year our congregation rejoices in the reminder of our generous, giving God—this year, one star gift at a time.
Matthew 2:1-12 (Common English Bible)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
Isaiah 60:1-6 (The Voice)
Arise, shine, for your light has broken through!
The Eternal One’s brilliance has dawned upon you.
See truly; look carefully—darkness blankets the earth;
people all over are cloaked in darkness.
But God will rise and shine on you;
the Eternal’s bright glory will shine on you, a light for all to see.
Nations north and south, peoples east and west, will be drawn to your light,
will find purpose and direction by your light.
In the radiance of your rising, you will enlighten the leaders of nations.
Don’t be shy; don’t be doubtful; lift up your eyes and look around.
They have gathered all around you, eager to come and be close to you.
And your children will come back to this land:
your sons from the farthest places of wandering,
and your daughters gently carried home.
And when you see it, your face will glow;
your heart will race and be filled with joy;
For great ships will arrive with gifts from across the sea,
and the wealth of nations will make their way to you.
Herd after herd of camels will cover the land,
caravans arriving daily from south and southwest: Midian, Ephah,
Even Sheba with gifts of gold and frankincense.
They will announce for all the world to hear, “The Eternal be praised!”