The season after Christmas and before Lent can often seem like a “down” time in the church year. It can seem as if we are simply marking time before the next celebration. Whether it is because people are suffering from holiday fatigue or influenced by gloomy winter weather, the season of Epiphany can often go by unnoticed.
So, I would like to propose an activity we could participate in together here at St. John’s UCC this Epiphany season. The activity is called “Star Words.” The star word would be a star-shaped piece of brightly colored paper with a word printed on it and a scripture to go along with it. Every person who comes to church during the Epiphany season will receive a star word and will be invited to reflect on that word for the coming year, pondering what significance this word might have in their lives, and how God might be speaking to them through that simple message.
The star words will be placed on the altar each Sunday morning of the Epiphany season starting Sunday January 5, 2020. Worshipers are invited to come up and receive a star word. As worshipers chose a star word (without looking) there is great theological significance in such an act. In that moment, people are being invited to receive rather than give. It reminds us that this is always the order of things in God’s realm. God always gives first, and then we are invited to respond with our words and ourselves.
The wise men who traveled great distances to offer their gifts to the newborn Christ-child were responding to the Word first given to them. They received God’s Word, then offered their gifts to God. As we commemorate the arrival of the wise men and remember their offerings, we delight in this paper reminder that symbolizes God’s generosity in our lives.
Why would such a simple word take on such deep meaning? What is it about receiving a word on a piece of paper that touches people? I believe that people are yearning for tangible, clear signs of God’s presence.
Our congregation is filled with compassionate people who spend hours to host our Holly Berry Fair, working barbecue meals, writing cards to the sick, providing transportation to the homebound, calling on people in hospitals and nursing homes, praying for those in need, stretching the church budget by giving what they can.
Our congregation is good at being busy and “doing” for God. Perhaps this Epiphany season can represent for us a change in our routine as a congregation. This can be an opportunity for us to “be still” in the presence of God and to receive God’s Word. In other words, it is an invitation to truly live in and experience God’s grace.
“Ponder These Words in Your Hearts”
Everyone who receives a star word is encouraged to take it home and hang it up where they are sure to see it every day. It may be on their bathroom mirror, or next to their computer screen. Many people keep their star words from year to year; gradually accumulating a virtual constellation of wise words and encouragement displayed as a reminder of God’s presence in our lives.
I encourage you to allow your word to speak directly to you. Perhaps start by looking your word up in the dictionary, as well as looking up the scripture verse. This will allow you to gain a deeper meaning. For example, we hear the word grace all the time, but what exactly does it mean? A word that seemed unclear at the beginning may gain new meaning as the year goes on.
Often the words seem very timely, as if they were indeed designated for the recipient. I imagine we will be surprised at what the Spirit may reveal to us.
Epiphany is the celebration of God’s presence breaking through to shine as a light in the darkness. This year our congregation will be invited to rejoice in the reminder of our generous, giving God–one star word at a time.