Sermon of the Week
What Will You Do with Your Epiphany?
Keywords: Live Nativity, Handmade Shed, Giant Star, Celestial Omens, Howard Thurman, The Work of Christmas.
The church of my earliest childhood memories is in Atlantic, Iowa.
I lived in Atlantic from age 4ish until just before my 12th birthday.
It was there I learned the classics of the children’s choir:
He’s Got the Whole World, In His Hands…
Jesus Loves Me This I Know…
And This little light of mine…
That one would work for Epiphany Sunday.
It was there, in that church, I learned the art of how to squirm in an old oak pew
without making it squeak so much that I’d catch my mom’s eye.
When I got older, I even got to play in the bell choir
though we moved away just as I was getting good with the big bells.
What I remember most about that church, though, was the live nativity.
They had a small shed-like thing they kept in a dungeon closet somewhere
that some faithful church member built
and some other faithful member drug out of storage every December.
They spread out a rug or three
and set up a chair for Mary and Joseph on either side of a manger for a bed.
It was exactly as you might be imagining it.
Someone brought a sheep or a lamb in from the farm
and all the rest of us dressed up as shepherds or angels.
On the Friday nights of December
we’d stand up there, out on the hill right across the street from the town square.
I only remember doing it a few times.
Too cold. It was way too cold.
To stand out there freezing for this live crèche.
But I must have been old enough to have been signed up for it by one of my parents
for a shift or two, because I remember standing there
waiting for it to end.
Did I mention that it was really cold?
I have been trying to remember what role I played in that live nativity
but I have no idea.
I think I would have remembered if I was Joseph, you know
but that was reserved for some older kid, or maybe a grown up,
same as it was for Mary.
And I would have remembered if I was one of the magoi,
the so called “wisemen” of our reading today
though that word doesn’t mean they were men, necessarily.
In our imagination, there were three of them,
though the text doesn’t say that, either,
only that they were foreign scholars who were beckoned to come search
for some event of cosmic significance,
to search in, of all places,
the poor section of a backwater town in the middle of nowhere special.
They carried gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh,
and I would have remembered if I got to play one of those parts.
Those were the good parts.
I must have been a shepherd, or maybe an angel,
important enough to be there, but definitely in the chorus.
So I had a spot just on the far edge of the outer rug.
I had to be careful not to step off onto the snow
which is hard for a fidgeting, bored 11-year-old to do
when he didn’t have the benefit of a cell phone to keep him occupied.
And for maybe an hour and a half
we stood out there, trying to look holy
on some dark December evening
lit only by a single flood light temporarily placed ten or fifteen feet away,
oh, and lit also by the amazing, glowing spectacle of a star
that hung atop that handmade wooden shed.
The star was positively glorious:
fifteen or twenty huge lights
each light about the size of regular run-of-the-mill light bulb
but in all sorts of Christmas light colors
green and blue and red and yellow and white.
If you were driving down Highway Six, or circling around the city square
one night when that thing was out in all its splendor,
it might have blinded you.
I guarantee, it caught your attention
more so than any of the 8 characters, and the goat, trying to stay warm
while sharing the Christmas gospel with the small town of Atlantic, Iowa.
Arise, Shine. For your light has come!
On Epiphany Sunday, we think about that Star
the one that the whole world saw,
the one that all of Atlantic saw,
as a sign of something important happening in their midst.
We 21st century people have come to love the Christmas star so much. [Read more…]