Even the biggest and brightest stars look pretty small.
I remember having the North Star pointed out to me as a boy scout, expecting some massive and unmistakable celestial light, and being more than a little disappointed with the little white dot among many other little white dots.
I think about this each year at Epiphany, when we tell the story of those mysterious “wise men” who have traveled all the way from the back window of our sanctuary to the chancel and found their place in the nativity scene.
Matthew’s description of these characters is tantalizingly sparse. Tradition has attempted to fill in the gaps for us, providing names and even the notion that there were three of them. But all we really know about these shadowy travelers is that something caught their eye and they were compelled to follow it, even to great distances and at great expense.
And it probably wasn’t anything big, this star. The stars in nativity sets are usually enormous, and if to scale would be either dangerously close to the stable or much bigger than the sun. I think it helps us to think of this mysterious star as something big, so big that we can’t miss it. But that’s not how stars are. And that’s not how Epiphany is. It’s easy to overlook even the brightest heavenly lights.
Then I think about this past Thanksgiving when we gathered with Audrey’s family at her grandmother’s house in Metter. One night that week was especially clear and so we took all the children out to the front yard to look at the stars and the moon, full like a giant glowing saucer. Our sister-in-law had one of those apps on her phone that, if you hold it up to the sky, will point out particular stars and illuminate the different constellations in overlaid pictures. The children, I’ll admit, were more interested in a wheelbarrow they found and were carting each other around in out there in the dark. But the adults were enthralled. The sky was alive, the earth was subject to its light, and our lives seemed at the same time so small, and yet somehow illuminated.
The earlier part of the Christmas story tells us that sometimes God’s presence is revealed in choirs of angels—and thank God for those moments. The beauty of Epiphany, the culmination of the nativity story, is that at other times we find God in something small, but curiously bright. The challenge is that we won’t know if it’s really God’s presence shining forth unless we follow it.
So this is my prayer for you and for us at the start of this new together: that we would follow the small, but curious bright lights that shine before us with such regularity that too often we don’t stop to look. But even before this, that we would stop to look, and that we would find ourselves living in the glow of inescapable light.