Yesterday, as the morning star rose in the sky, we started a new season in the Christian year named Epiphany. Each of us knows that an Epiphany is “a manifestation,” “a perception,” “an awakening” or “an insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience” (Random House Dictionary of the English Language). For us, as Christians, our Epiphany is that Jesus Christ is revealed to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi.
An epiphany is an “Ah ha!” moment in our lives. Sometimes an insight is gained that is so simple and clear, it makes sense of that which we could not otherwise explain. An epiphany takes all the essential elements of an event, a life, an experience and ties them all together. An epiphany brings clarity and meaning to something which previously had only memory and energy - but has lacked the final, essential element of clarity and meaning. Epiphanies often happen in the twinkling of an eye. And that twinkling eye is opened after the atomic energy of life has been brewing and stirring in the heart and the mind of a person for a long time.
I believe that each one of us is a vessel for God’s revealed truth. Each one of us, created in God’s image, is “an instrument of peace” (to quote St. Francis of Assisi). The question is not “are we stars waiting to be born for God?” The question is: Are we open and available to God so that when God is ready to reveal truth and light and hope, God can do this through us? And then, the question becomes: “Are we able to follow the star once it is born within us?”
In the Gospel of Matthew, the magi were available to God. They were open to God’s revelation of truth. They were ready to travel to an unknown land when the stars aligned 2000+ years ago. They left home in Persia (probably different homes in different locations) and ventured across mountains and deserts to meet the new king of Israel. They read the Hebrew prophecy of Micah and from the heavens above and the texts below, these stargazers found their footpath to the manger:
And you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me, one who is to rule Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days (Micah 5:2).
They brought gifts of Gold, Frankincense and myrrh. Gold is the metal of kings. It is the gift for a royal leader. Frankincense is the gift for a priest. In Temple worship, the sacrifices were lifted to heaven with the holy scent of this sweet perfume. Myrrh is the gift for one is to die. It is used to embalm bodies. The baby of Bethlehem was born the king of humanity, the priest (which in Latin means Bridge-builder) of humanity and the Savior born to die for all humanity. King, bridge-builder, and Sacrificial Savior. Mary’s epiphany, awakened by the presents of the magi, must have been all of this - and more.
Every star-born in the night is surrounded by darkness. In our story, the darkness is cast by the shadow of King Herod. Perhaps the wise men were not so wise after all. They went to Herod the Killer to look for the King. Sometimes we are so heavenward in our attitudes and our outlooks we end up being no earthly good. In Herod’s case, he had no heavenly vision, but still had no earthly goodness. Herod’s intent was to kill this king - even after he discovered the king was a baby.
The darkness often seeks to engulf and destroy star born light. In our lives, someone has an epiphany. Someone emerges in leadership. Someone’s star is born. And we see the envy, ego, and insecurity of others - cast in darkness - who work to put out the light. Instead of support and delight for the manifestation which is around them - a manifestation of goodness, justice, and hope - those in the shadows of darkness, work to destroy, not to enliven the gifts emerging in others. Thinking the starlight unworthy, threatened by the glow of goodness, the Herods of our lives and of this world, undo what is proving to be good. Sometimes, out of jealousy or being threatened, this happens unintentionally. Other times, as in Herod’s case, it is very intentional. For most epiphanies, we need to remember, the encircling darkness is close at hand and sometimes powerfully present.
I have experienced several life changing epiphanies in my life. Born again in the light of God’s love at 19, I have lived these past 29 years seeking to stay open to the power of the Holy Spirit in my life. I ask each day - and sometimes several times each day - “Where is Christ revealing himself in this experience?” When I fail to be still and ask this, I know that I am not available to God in that moment or in the day. Whether at bedside or casket, whether in the joy of a child’s laughter or the tears of pain in an adult struggling with injustice, “Where is Christ made manifest in this moment?” must always be foremost in my heart and mind - and I believe must be foremost in your heart and mind. Examine your life and ask: How will I be open to such thoughts? How will my heart be open to such a way of living?
Next Monday, here in Columbus, The Rev. Dr. Samuel “Billy” Kyles will be the keynote speaker at the 22nd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Breakfast. I hope you can come and hear him. Dr. Kyles has led his life as drum major for justice in Memphis, TN. I was blessed two years ago to spend 1 ½ hours with Dr. Kyles in his church office in Memphis (which by the way is on Billy Kyles Boulevard!). On April 4, 1968, Dr. Kyles came by the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis to take his friends, including Dr. King, to dinner at his house. The dinner was set for 6pm, but Billy came at 5:00pm. As he tells it, Dr. King wasn’t ready to leave. He just wanted to hang out at the hotel. For the next hour Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, Andy Young, and Jesse Jackson told “preacher stories” and laughed out loud about “nothing and everything.” Finally, Dr. King said, “I’m getting hungry. We got to go eat Mrs. Kyles’ homestyle cooking!” As the others headed out the door, Billy stayed behind to call home and tell his wife they were on the way. He heard a single gunshot ring out. When he made it the second floor balcony there was blood everywhere. His 38-year-old friend, the Nobel Peach Prize winner, the greatest preacher America has ever known was lying near death in a pool of his own blood. It was Good Friday. The sunset on America that day as the darkness of death devastated and dashed from life the bright star of justice.
Dr. Kyles looked at me and said, “Tim, since that fateful day, I have shown five Nobel Peace Prize winners to that room, and shown them that sight in the Lorraine Hotel. I watched Nelson Mandela take off his shoes on ‘holy ground,’ fall to face and cry like a baby on that ‘holy ground.’” One day, I went on my own and sat in prayer asking God why? Why did this happen? Why had I been there? What did it mean? What did the Lord want me to do as a witness of these things? Like a flash of light, God struck me with these words. “You are to be my witness to this crucifixion. Tell the world that Martin Luther King, Jr. laid down his life for garbage workers. My son Martin, sacrificed his life for the poorest of the poor, the lowest esteemed among men.”
Sitting face-to-face with Dr. Kyles, in the silence of a warm September day in Memphis, Tennessee, he and I began to cry. Our tears were tears of pain, tears of conviction, tears of epiphany as two men of different races, different places, different generations were bound by one heart and one mind in Christ. Our tears were cleansing and purposeful.
We had come to Memphis at different times for different reasons. Having received his witness, I was soon to be headed home by another way.
But, just like the apostle Paul in today’s passage in Ephesians, Dr. Kyles and I were once again convicted to proclaim the mystery of our faith with holy boldness. Bound by the star born in our hearts, each of was forever connected to the cosmic mystery. Open to the manifestation of God in Christ and in King, we were apostles forever committed to tell the story of the divine drama of death and resurrection. Separated in so many ways by the passage of so many days, each of us left that place, rededicated to live out our lives as witnesses for justice, as advocates for the poor.
I pray that your reaction to epiphanies in your life is undaunted by the taunts and laughter of others, unafraid of the darkness which surrounds every star. I pray that as your star is born, the light in your heart becomes bright for God! Amen.
Copyright 2007, The First Congregational Church