Date: Decmber 30th & January 2nd
Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri
First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalmody: Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
When I was a kid, my Nana used to hide my Easter basket and leave me clues to go and find it. When I would begin this hunt I would have a clue, which I have always loved solving, and then make my way to where I thought the basket would be. But when I arrived, sometimes there would not be a clue at all. Maybe I missed some minor wording and had to search three feet to the left, but then I would scour that clue again until I found it. And then, I would have another clue, and another, and I would keep searching, keep finding, and keep searching again, often to the point of wondering if this hunt for my basket would ever end or if I would be stuck searching all day and miss the Easter egg hunt later in the evening. But finally, I would always find it, after many messages and clues, after continually searching and finding, searching and finding, I would end up where I was supposed to be, where I was being led and guided, all along. I would be so relieved that my search was over, and I had found what the messages had been telling me I was moving toward. Searching and finding, that is what today's message is about.
This week we recognize the festival of Epiphany in the church. We read and remember the story of the Magi, who traveled by light of a star to find the baby Jesus, the messiah who had come into the world as a human, and pay him tribute. But the story does not take them right there, this is not a case where they get the message and then immediately find their destination. The Magi search in this passage. And when they think they do not know where to go next, they ask around, even receive attention from Herod, and then keep searching because they know they are not there yet. When they finally do arrive, and pay the child homage, and give him their gifts, they then begin to leave. But because of another message, they realize they have found a new directive, one that tells them not to go back to Herod but to return home instead, and so they search for their way home along a new route. They search and find a new way of going back to their lives.
There is a tradition in the season of Epiphany where each person in a congregation will randomly pick up a “star word.” The person picks out this star word from a large stack of small papers, each of which has a star on it, and a word within that star. Sometimes the paper is even in the shape of a star, though I did not plan enough preparation time this year, so I invite you to cut out your own star as you see fit. Each person picks up their slip of paper, turns it over, and sees what star word can be found on the paper. This word can have many purposes but especially for us as Lutherans in the United States, it happens at a time in the church year that corresponds to the start of the new calendar year. Many people then take their star word and use that as something that can run in the back of their mind throughout the year to come. Perhaps as a point of guidance, a reminder, or even a challenge for what this year might hold. I am quite new to this tradition myself, having only learned about it two or three years ago, but it is one that I have come to find a fun way to relate to the journey that the Magi made and to offer a moment of personal reflection for what the year to come will bring.
The Magi may have heard the prophecies, and they may have watched the stars, but these magi were not always sure they were on the right track. There was searching and finding and then searching again, only to be re-routed and told to search for the next thing. Life can often do that with us, especially when it comes to our faith. We can think, THIS is exactly where I am going, and so we search for that thing, whatever it is, but on the way there we find new things and our direction shifts and maybe we eventually end up at that place, but have to keep searching because that place we were searching for was not the end that we thought it was, but rather a pit stop on the way. So we continually search and find and keep doing so because God is never done leading us to what is next. All the while, we do this within a community of others who are also searching and finding the paths that God is leading them down. On a table out in the entryway/lounge, you will find the printed out Epiphany star words for anyone to take this year. I will leave them out through worship this week and next week since Epiphany is not until January 6th, and I invite you to take a chance and pick up a star word.
This word does not have to act as a horoscope for your 2022 or as a New Year's Resolution, it is merely an opportunity to see where the Holy Spirit might lead your mind, if you take a minute to actively search for God's will in regard to whatever your word may be. Think of it as an opportunity to consider whatever you might need in your spiritual life, and in your relationship with God. Pick out a star word and share with only yourself, or with everyone, read it once and forget about it or hang it on your fridge all year, there is no wrong way to pick out or interact with a star word, if you picked it off the table and read the word, you did it. See where the your searching and finding in faith might lead you in this new year, as the Magi were led by their own star.
Our passages today offer us a reminder that our faith is not a single destination, it is a journey where messages keep coming, searching is part of the path, and finding comes in different steps. Much like when I kept finding both new clues and dead-ends as I searched for my Easter basket as a child, our journey of faith together may seem never-ending. The Good News is that it is never a journey that we are called to take alone. Because not only did our example of the Magi in our Gospel today travel in a group, search in a group, and find in a group, but we also have a God that has promised us the same. The very baby that the Magi searched for and found is the one who embodied the Holy so that we might relate better to a God who had the human experience. Jesus has fulfilled God's promise of constant accompaniment and companionship. So when we search and find new things about our faith and about the church and about the world, we are never doing so alone. We search and we find together, forever, slowly inching toward the day when we finally arrive at the reign of Christ. Thanks be to God.