A team of engineers was called in to build a lighthouse of a rocky coast of a
remote island in the Pacific that was plagued by heavy fog. During construction, the
natives of the island watched with great interest, looking forward to the day when the
operation could be tested. When the lighthouse was completed, many of the islanders
gathered to watch and listen to the sights and sounds penetrating the heavy fog. After a
few hours, many of the residents of the island began to leave with a less than
One of the project engineers proudly asked one of the islanders what he thought
of the lighthouse. The islander replied, “Light shines, bell rings, horn blows, but fog
keeps on just the same.”
That just about says it all, doesn’t it? We struggle in the fog desperately looking
for some kind of magic fog-lifting formula, but alas, the fog keeps on just the same. We
have all sorts of shining lights, ringing bells, and blowing horns, but seldom does the fog
go away. We have just come through another year that may have been tumultuous for
some, a year with a lot of fog physically, spiritually, emotionally. We wonder and hope
that 2016 will be better and that the fog will lift.
Today is Epiphany Sunday, one of great historic observances in the Christian
Church. The actual day of Epiphany is January 6, which is the 12th day of Christmas, or
the 12th day after the birth of Christ. The arrival of the Magi on the 12th day signals that
the baby born in Bethlehem is truly God’s Messiah. These majestic Magi were ancient
Babylonian astrologers who traveled during the night in order to follow the star which
eventually led them to the Christ child.
From a purely non-scientific perspective, the star as a tradition has been viewed
as a gift from God that not only enables persons to get their bearing and directions, but
is also the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy from Isaiah who said centuries before the
birth of Christ, “Arise, shine, for your light has come…” Light has indeed come into our
world, a light penetrates our darkness as well as the fog.
On this Epiphany Sunday, we can celebrate the fact that God brought light into
our fog. A lighthouse does not lift the fog, but it does penetrate the fog and gives us our
bearings. This morning I would like to have you give some consideration to the
importance of the star that God gave us.
IN THE FIRST PLCE, THE STAR GIVES US A SENSE OF DIRECTION
There is a wonderful story about Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. When he was 88
years of age, he was riding on a train when the conductor came by and asked for his
ticket. The justice looked through his pockets and wallet, but was unable to find his
ticket. The conductor said, “Don’t worry, Justice Holmes. The Pennsylvania Railroad will
be happy to trust you. After you reach your destination you will probably find your ticket
and you can just mail it to us.” The conductor’s sympathetic understanding failed to put
Justice Holmes at ease. Still very much upset, he said, “My dear man, the question is
not ‘Where is my ticket? The question is ‘Where am I going?’”
This is an issue for many of us regardless of our age. We are at the beginning of
a new year. What will be your destination for the next 12 months? What is it you are
wanting to do and where is it you are wanting to go? And once you have arrived, is it
where you really want to be? The issue is not one of old age and forgetfulness, but any
age and direction. If you are struggling with this kind of issue, let me assure you that
you are not alone.
No one is exempt in the struggle with our own spiritual fog. There are times
when all of us wonder where we are going in our life and sometimes the fog becomes
so intense we find ourselves coming in contact with our own brokenness. Lighthouses
do not lift the fog, but they do provide light that can give us a new sense of direction.
What is the purpose of the star? Well, from a purely non-scientific point of view, it can
give us a new sense of direction.
IN THE SECOND PLACE, THE STAR CAN GIVE US A NEW SENSE OF PURPOSE
In our more noble moments most of us would like to think we have worthwhile
purpose that keeps us going. But every now and then again the fog sets in and we
begin to lose our sense of purpose. There may be many reasons for this, and one of
them may be what Sam Keen spoke a number of years ago about in an article of
“Sooner or later it happens to most of us. You wake up one
morning, it is January in your soul, the tide is out, and nothing
is visible except mudflats. There isn’t much pain, just a great
emptiness. The excitement of living has ebbed away leaving only
a littered line of memories along the shore to make the receding
tide of passion. You go through the day by rote, doing what you
should do, more like a spectator than an actor…The condition is so
common that almost every language in the world has a word for it.
For Americans, it is boredom, burnout, the blues, and the blahs.”
It was the gifted writer, Norman Cousins, who once commented that “our
paralysis proceeds not so much out of the mammoth size of the problem, but out of
puniness of purpose.” Cousins went on to say that the real tragedy of death is to die
without having known our greatest power, the power of freedom to give our lives to
others in some great purpose.
Matthew tells us that after the Magi had seen the Christ child, they were warned
in a dream to go home by a different road. This was Matthew’s way of telling us that
once we have encountered the Christ, we too go home a different way. A way to a
greater resolve and a deeper commitment to the purpose in life that has size and
That’s a part of what the Invitational Commitment that is in the January
newsletter is about. Those five commitments are taken from the John Wesley Covenant
Service that United Methodist congregations celebrate on the first Sunday of the new
year. It enables us to re-commit ourselves, or in some instances, commit ourselves, to
something of great size and dimension, like our commitment to God.
FINALLY, THE STAR GIVES US A SENSE OF HOPE.
Have you ever noticed that some of our greatest discoveries and achievements
come in the midst of darkness and fog? Like the Babylonian astrologers of a bygone
age, we, too, do most of our sojourning through the night.
Imagine how surprised those astrologers must have been after their long,
difficult journey of following the star that led them to the Christ, the true light of the
world. I think the word Epiphany is one of the most beautiful words in the English
language. It means “manifestation”. Specifically, Christians believe God was manifested
as the light of the world in Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah who predicted the light,
said, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon
As we begin the new year, it might be helpful for us to keep in mind that we are
to be keepers of that light. This is what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ.
On Christmas Eve when we lit and held a candle high for the entire world to see,
it becomes our job to make certain that the light we have seen keeps burning until his
promised return. That light of Christ will see us through the darkest times. But in this
coming year, let us all remember that we, too, are not only keeps of the light, but we
are bearers of the light as well.
Followers of Christ have kept that light shining for over twenty centuries. We
dare not be the generation that lets the light fade out. What we have is much better
than a lighthouse. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord will
arise upon you, and God’s glory will appear over you.” That’s God’s promise to us, and
that is our hope.