Following Your Star

Welcome to 2024. Welcome to Epiphany. Okay, technically it was yesterday, but we’re celebrating it today. The word epiphany means appearance or revealing, a manifestation, especially of something divine. We celebrate January 6 as Epiphany, when the Magi reached Bethlehem and found the Christ Child, the manifestation of God in our midst.


What we may forget or overlook in this story of God’s presence incarnate among us is that it took outsiders to recognize that Jesus was our newborn ruler, Emmanuel, God-with-us. In the birth story in Luke, the Good News comes to an old, barren couple, Zachariah and Elizabeth. The Good News comes to Mary, a young, unwed virgin. The Good News is revealed or made manifest to shepherds: poor, homeless men living outside of town in the hillsides, dirty and perhaps uncouth.


In the Matthew version the Good News comes to foreigners, perhaps Zoroastrian astrologers. They come on faith, putting everything else in their lives on hold so they can make this pilgrimage and share their gifts. They assume that a newborn king will be born at the palace, son of the current king, so they stop in Jerusalem and knock on Herod’s door. But just as the Magi come unexpectedly from outside, this newborn ruler also comes from an unexpected place: he is born not in a palace but in poverty. He is born one of us. Regular people. Who would guess that of a king? God comes to us from unexpected directions, from the least and the lost, the outsiders, the foreigners. Each of them has an important part to play, important Good News to share. And so do we.


Have you ever made a pilgrimage, such as the Magi made? Over the centuries, people have made pilgrimages to Canterbury, to Iona, along el Camino in Spain to the Church of St. James, or Santiago de Compostela. The Crusades were some sort of pilgrimage to the Holy Land, though with a more military bent and a lot of destruction in their wake. Muslims aim to do a hajj to Mecca once in their lives. The Magi felt called to follow their star on this pilgrimage to find the Christ Child. And when they succeeded, they were overjoyed and offered costly gifts. But perhaps the most costly gift was their attention, their time, their valuing of this divine child and this journey to reach him. And I guarantee you, they did go home by a different road. They were changed by their journey.


The poem we read by Jan Richardson, “Wise Women Also Came,” highlights the wisdom of women in helping each other through childbirth, in sharing the pain and the joy of that journey and supporting each other through it. What an affirmation of love from an undervalued and often unseen quarter. And their gifts are so practical: water, fire for light and warmth, a blanket for the baby. Most of all, the gift of showing up to help.


What star beckons to you? What would you have to set aside in order to follow it? What gifts do you offer? And how—although perhaps we cannot see it yet—how are we so changed by the journey itself that we must go home by a different road, because we are not the same as when we came?


Let’s take those questions again.


What star beckons to you? Perhaps it is not visible to anyone else. The desire to sing, or to end homelessness, or to be a good parent, or to take on climate change, or to build a sense of community among your neighbors, or whatever it might be. What star beckons you to follow?


What would you have to set aside in order to follow it? The Magi left their homes, their families, their positions—everything that was normal and predictable and safe and comfortable in their lives—to follow this star. It was worth that much to them. We don’t hear about them before or after this moment. We don’t hear about their safe, comfortable lives before this journey, or their transformed lives afterward. As you consider this coming year, think about what it would take to follow your star fully committed. Is this the year to step away from what is safe and comfortable, normal and predictable? I once spoke with a woman who led a safe, predictable life: married, job, kids. Then her kids grew up, she retired, and her husband died. So she joined the Peace Corps and lived in Sri Lanka for two years, serving the poor there. What an adventure. She dared to follow her star. That’s the part of her life that people are going to remember and talk about. What would you have to set aside in order to follow your star?


What gifts do you offer? Time? Attention? Money? Hard work? Because a star worth following is going to ask of you everything you have to offer and then some. The wise women who came offer water, fire, and a blanket, yes, but most important they show up. They offer their support and companionship in a life-and-death moment. Sometimes showing up and bearing witness can be the biggest gift of all. Yesterday a group of protestors blocked I-5 downtown to demand a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine. They see how many people are dying—people who had nothing to do with starting this conflict—and they showed up.


We may think we are nobody special, that our gifts aren’t worth anything or won’t change anything. The story of the Christ Child says otherwise. It says, in Luke, that God works through the unwed virgin, the old barren couple, the shepherds. It says, in Matthew, that God works through the foreigners who bother to show up, who see and name what was hidden to others. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s eyes to see what is already in our midst.


We are a small church full of good people. Let’s make 2024 the year that we follow our stars, as individuals and as a congregation. Let’s set aside whatever is keeping us from following that star and commit fully to showing up for the pilgrimage. Let’s bring our gifts and offer them to God. And then see how we come home by a different road.



And now we’re going to do something new. It is a prayer practice in churches all over the world to give people a star word on this Epiphany Sunday. There are many reasons behind this tradition.

First, the story tells us that the Magi followed a star, which ultimately led them to Jesus. We, too, are invited to use all the resources we have available to us—including creative payer practices and intention words for the new year—to move closer to the Divine.

Second, we trust that God uses multiple ways to guide us and speak to us. Star words are one such lens that might provide us with a way to look for God in our midst, both actively and in hindsight.

Finally, we know that the most common prayer practice for many involves speaking to God, as opposed to silence or contemplation. However, this prayer practice centered on your star word invites a new prayer rhythm of reflection and review that can be a powerful way to connect with God.

So in a moment, you will be invited to receive a star word. If you are attending via Zoom, you can type a number between 1 and 15 into Chat and someone will tell you the star word corresponding to that number. If you are here in the sanctuary, star words will be passed out. Choose your word without looking at it. Let it choose you, and just be open to receiving it.


At this time, we will take a few moments for everyone to get their star word. As you receive your word, I invite you to sit in silence with it. Most of the words are in English; a few are in other languages. Those who receive foreign words will get to look them up.


[Distribute star words to people in the pews. People online can also choose words: have someone with a list of words numbered 1-20 sit at laptop and have people choose a number, 1-20. Person then types the word they have chosen that goes with that number into the chat.


Time for everyone to sit with their word in silence. Then turn to someone they didn’t arrive with and share their word, talk for a minute about how it is landing, any ideas that might be coming up.

Zoom people discuss together.]



God of ink-black skies and starry nights,

Like the Magi, we seek you.

Step by step, we have journeyed to this moment

With the hope of feeling you in our midst.

You claim us. You love us. You feed us.

Today we have all received star words.

For some, these words are already full of meaning, challenge, and invitation.

For others, these words are a blank canvas, inviting you into our lives in ways we cannot yet imagine.

As a New Year dawns, we pray that you guide us in our dreams and in our waking.

May we use these star words to see you in our lives every day.

May we set aside whatever is keeping us from following our star.

May we bring all our gifts on this pilgrimage.

And may we find that we come home by a different road.



Prayers adapted from prayers by Sarah Are, A Sanctified Art LLC, Used by permission.

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