The Day of Epiphany, Jan. 6, marks the end of the Christmas season in the Christian church’s calendar and the beginning of what is known as “ordinary time” during the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, Feb. 12 this year. The fact that liturgical scholars call this ordinary time, doesn’t mean that it has to be ordinary at all. The story of the Epiphany provides the guidance we need to make this an extraordinary season.
The Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 2) tells the story of the Epiphany, recalling the wise men following the star, presenting the gifts to Jesus, Mary and Joseph and returning home by another way. This simple, three-part outline of the story provides a basic structure for our own journey during this season.
The wise men, the Magi, followed the new star they found in the sky believing that it was of God’s doing, and that by following it they would find a new thing that God was doing in the world. Their journey led them to Jesus, the Christ. This leads me to wonder if we should all be scanning the skies of our own lives, watching for the star that represents the new thing that God is doing in our lives, or in our world.
Just like the night sky when you’re in the country, there are plenty of stars in the sky calling for our attention. But most of them are a distraction. I’ll confess a few of my own distractive stars: I spent a good part of the last weekend watching the NFL playoff games on television, often with my laptop open on my lap, and paying attention to my cell phone — distraction, distraction, distraction. Where, on the horizon, is the star God wants me to follow? Where is God leading you?
The wise men avoided distraction, followed where God led them and found Jesus and his family. There they offered their precious gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
God invites us to offer our gifts in service to the Christ. On the Day of the Epiphany, Jan.6, I was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. It was a day in which I offered my gifts for ministry to Christ and the church. When this day comes each year, it provides me with an opportunity to remember the gifts I have for ministry and to take stock of what else I may have to offer. What gifts do you have to give?
The story of the Epiphany tells of the Magi being warned in a dream to return home by another way to avoid King Herod, whose jealousy was raised when the Magi inquired about a new king of the Jews. This can be a reminder to us that the extraordinary season of Epiphany invites us to follow God’s lead and do a new thing with our lives. If we are to make that new thing a permanent change, then we can’t simply go back to the way we were before we recognized that star. We too need to find a new way home.
This church season, tucked between Christmas and Lent, doesn’t have to be ordinary. If we can recognize and follow the new star God puts before, leading us to new ways to offer our gifts for ministry, and make sure that we don’t fall back into our old ways, but find a new way home, we can make the season of Epiphany truly extraordinary.
Bob Furniss is chaplain at Lakeview Hospital and Hospice.