A Simple Liturgy for Epiphany
Permission to podcast/stream the music obtained from One License #A-727307
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect Light.
OT Reading: Isaiah 60:1-3
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
All kings shall bow down before him,
* and all the nations do him service.
For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress,
* and the oppressed who has no helper.
He shall have pity on the lowly and poor;
* he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence,
* and dear shall their blood be in his sight.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 2:7-12
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Homily: The Gentle, Quiet Star
Reading: I Kings 19:11-13, The Voice):
Eternal One: Leave this cave, and go stand on the mountainside in My presence.
The Eternal passed by him. The mighty wind separated the mountains and crumbled every stone before the Eternal. This was not a divine wind, for the Eternal was not within this wind. After the wind passed through, an earthquake shook the earth. This was not a divine quake, for the Eternal was not within this earthquake. After the earthquake was over, there was a fire. This was not a divine fire, for the Eternal was not within this fire. After the fire died out, there was nothing but the sound of a calm breeze. And through this breeze a gentle, quiet voice entered into Elijah’s ears. He covered his face with his cloak and went to the mouth of the cave. Suddenly, Elijah was surprised.
Eternal One: Why are you here, Elijah? What is it that you desire?
The questions posed by God to Elijah at the end of the Reading are the quintessential questions of our lives. They were probably asked often of the Magi on their lonely journey from the East. Depictions of the Star of Bethlehem on Christmas art often exaggerate the brightness and size of what they were seeking; after all, if the Star had been large or bright, everyone in the area would have noticed it; certainly King Herod would not have to ask the Magi where he could find the new Messiah. It would have been impossible to ignore.
Time and time again in God’s story, we find that our Lord tends not to seek that kind of attention. His interventions in our lives, too many to list but even in the relatively few that have been recorded, seem to have an enigmatic quality which leaves the witnesses wondering what they have seen and heard. They are more like trail cairns, piles of rock left to give direction and assurance to the traveler, without revealing the destination. Finding such markers, we are left to discern their meaning and trust their intention for our journey.
It was likely such for the Magi, star-students that noticed something that didn’t belong in the constellations which only those who studied the skies would recognize. Others likely thought they were crazy, especially to make such a long trek to an unfamiliar world based upon only their observations and an ancient prophesy.
Why are you here? They must have heard, repeatedly.
We have seen the Star that we have heard about from the old days, they had to reply. Look, there: the one in the western sky, it doesn’t belong...can you see it?
No; we don’t see it. It’s just stars; there are millions of them. Why? What is it that you desire?
The prophesy says that a King, the King of all Kings, will be born under such a star. We desire to bow down and worship Him.
You are following a fantasy. Only fools embark on such errands.
Astronomer Michael Molnar argues in his book that the Star of Bethlehem was not a star at all, but rather a regal portent centering around the planet Jupiter that was eclipsed by the moon. He bases this theory on the actual beliefs of astrologers, such as the Magi. Using a computer program, he was able to chart an eclipse of Jupiter in Aries on April 17, 6 B.C., a day when Jupiter was precisely “in the east.” Moreover, he found that a Roman astrologer described the conditions of that day as fitting the birth of a “divine and immortal” person.
(The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi, by Michael Molnar, 1999)
Regardless of what the Star was or how it looked in the sky, the vast majority of people didn’t see it. To make its mark, it required two important qualities in the Magi for them to heed it: keeping watch and keeping faith.
Jesus admonished his followers in both ventures. Keep alert; watch and pray always, for we do not know from which the Spirit comes or where it goes. Neither do we know when the Lord himself will return. But also keep faith, for God holds us gently in his hands, and will provide, protect and lead us home.
So listen: Keep on asking, and you will receive. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened for you. All who keep asking will receive, all who keep seeking will find, and doors will open to those who keep knocking.
(Luke 11:9-10, The Voice)
As with gladness men of old, did the guiding star behold;
as with joy they hailed its light, leading onward, beaming bright;
so, most gracious Lord, may we evermore be led to thee.
Postlude: Ave Maria (Schubert) as depicted on Fantasia (1940)