The stars shining in your night sky

audio for sermon “The stars shining in your night sky” by Martin Malina

The sermon today comes with thanksgiving to Diana Butler Bass in her blog posted on the last day of Christmas, just before the Day of Epiphany 2023, entitled “Active Epiphany”[1]:

Following the light to the edge(photo by M Malina August 2023 at Kalaloch Beach WA)

On January 6 [every year], the Christian calendar turn[s] to a new season: Epiphany. 

The origins of Epiphany as a church festival are somewhat vague, as is the very definition of the word. “Epiphany” can mean manifestation, revelation, appearance, insight, enlightenment, or a shining forth. 

Epiphany begins with the story of the Magi, three astrologers, who follow a brilliant star to the place of Jesus’ birth and honor the child with gifts.[2] Upon seeing the baby, they were “overwhelmed with joy,” and fell on their knees. 

The wise men awaited a sign in the sky — a star — to guide them on this journey. Revelations break in, light shines forth, and glory appears. Such things are from the realms of mystery, awe, and wonder. They surprise and disrupt the normal course of existence. Epiphanies are not of our making. 

But it would be a mistake to believe that we are only passive recipients of epiphanies. We need to be alert for their appearance and search out the trailings of their presence. Revelations can be missed if one isn’t attentive or attuned to the possibilities of sacred surprise. 

The Magi, of course, were looking for a sign. They were professional spiritual seekers! But they weren’t content just gazing upon the star. They didn’t remain in some distant locale and admire its glory from afar. They got up and followed it to its source. And their journey even involved danger — as a treacherous king attempted to use them to manipulate this manifestation for his own evil purposes. They kept going.

[In the Gospel for today[3] the disciples follow Jesus from a distance and then respond positively to his invitation: “Come and see!” Their watching from a distance turns into active engagement.]

We may not create epiphanies, but we respond to them. Epiphanies grab a hold of us; we can’t shake them. Epiphanies ask something of us. The star is an invitation, a calling to do something — to act. 

These verses from Isaiah, traditionally read at Epiphany, underscore this:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.[4]

We arise; we shine — glory entices us, woos us, into the light. We don’t just observe. Epiphany embraces and vivifies us. 

Epiphany is a manifestation, the mystery revealed, and an invitation to discover grace, goodness, and God. It is neither a magic fix nor a moment when utopia arrives. The birth, the star, and heavenly glory don’t eliminate the darkness. Rather, such revelations cast the light that we need to see the way. 

Epiphany beckons us to pay attention and participate in widening the circle of light in the world — to push back against all brittle injustice and brutality. Whether a babe in Bethlehem or a burning bush, epiphanies are guide stars on a longer journey toward healing, liberation, and peace. 

[Did you notice with all the extra snow on the ground recently, how much brighter it is? Even during this darkest time of the year when we in the northern hemisphere are farthest removed from the sun—the source of all light in our solar system—the snow reflects what little light there is and magnifies it. That is why your optician will suggest you wear sunglasses at this time of year, to protect your eyes from the excessive brightness. Can you imagine? In a way, it’s just as bright in the darkest time of year as in it is in the summer when we are closest to the sun! We have enough light that we need, even when we are in the shadows. What sign are you looking for?]

Even when we are lost in the shadows of life’s difficulties, where is the light? Wherever the good peeks through the clouds, follow the good. Wherever you notice a grace, a gifting, a loving presence, a merciful act, follow the grace. Wherever a voice calls for justice, peace, goodwill to all, follow that.

Perhaps these words, a seasonal benediction of sorts, from Madeleine L’Engle capture the fullest sense of Epiphany:

This is my charge to you.
You are to be a light bearer.
You are to choose the light.

Arise. Shine.


[1] Diana Butler Bass, “Active Epiphany” The Cottage (dianabutlerbass.substack.com, 5 January 2023)

[2] Matthew 2

[3] From John 1:29-42, the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

[4] Isaiah 60:1

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