Dear friends in Christ,
One of the questions I am often asked since returning to Oregon is, “How does it feel to be back?” The question is often asked because the difference between the climate in Hawai’i and Oregon is dramatic. In the dark and cold months of winter, the sunny beaches of a tropical island seem like a dream.
The fall and winter in Oregon have always been my favorite seasons. One of the things I had forgotten is how early the sun sets in the winter. By five o’clock, it is dark – not dusk but night-time-dark. And this is also when I am reminded of the other thing I’d forgotten: folks here know the joy and beauty of Christmas lights on their homes. The sparkle of little lights in an array of colors on trees and houses in the dark of night brightens our mood. The eagerness with which we decorate our homes with Christmas lights suggests a sense of common purpose, it’s as if we are helping to lift each other’s moods as the darkness shortens our days.
On Epiphany, our attention is turned to the light of the world, Jesus, who has come into the world. The Greek word epithaneia means manifestation. Into the midst of an often bleak reality, the brightness of God’s love glimmers and shines.
“…[the Magi] set out, and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen in the east, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” (Matt. 2:9-10).
The image of the Magi, who were most likely ancient astrologers, finding their way to the baby Jesus by reading the stars at night reminds me of the pitch-dark nights on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The sky is filled with glittering stars, and their brightness is stunning because there is no competition from city lights.
The story of the Magi describes how they were able to find their way to Jesus by the bright star in the east guiding them by its great light. We can imagine the journey was long and uncertain as the star was probably not leading them during the daylight hours. Their joy, upon reaching their destination and seeing the baby, surely lifted their hearts and filled them with hope not only for themselves but for the whole world.
This Epiphany, we are invited to reflect on the ways in which the Good News of Jesus’ birth manifests overwhelming joy. The tiny, vulnerable baby Jesus radiates hope for humanity through tenderness and compassion rather than through loud defensive posturing. In what ways does this story help us find our way into hope and joy by following Jesus? Following Jesus can often seem like seeking guidance from a star in the dark of the night. How does the darkness help us see the brightness of Christ more clearly?
At Epiphany, my hope is that the manifestation of God’s love for the world guides us like the star guiding the Magi. Even in times when the way forward is veiled and hidden, the brightness of Christ glimmers and shines, showing us the way. And just as the Christmas lights on our homes brighten each other’s spirits as we drive along in the night, may we serve Christ by being sources of light and love to one another.
The manifestation of God’s love is ever-present and eternal. Our joyful response is right and good at all times and in all places.