Epiphany Sunday Year C

Looking for the rising star where else do you go but Jerusalem? To Zion set on a hilltop; to the king in his palace; to God in his brand new Temple? You make the pilgrimage. You don’t mind the desert chill or the barren winter plains because ahead, always rising, is the jewel of Judah, is Zion, is Jerusalem, city of Kings and the one place in all this round world where God dwells by his promise. Every step takes you upward as the ground breaks into hills and the hills into mountains and the valley you follow rises and dips and rises again. You remember the pilgrimage songs of the Jewish people, the songs of ascent, as they walked this same road long ago:
“How I rejoiced when they said to me “Let us go to the house of Adonai” and now our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.”
“Jerusalem restored! One united whole!” “May Adonai bless you from Zion, God who made heaven and earth.” “For Adonai has chosen Zion, chosen to make it God’s home.”
Ah, the songs of Zion. Looking for a rising star where else would you go? But to the heart, to the eternal city, to the holy dwelling place of God.
It is night. Deep and dark as velvet. Unbroken by moonlight. It is cold, bitter and bleak and black. Almost there, the climb almost complete, you pause for breath, winded by the ascent, and your gaze falls back on the way you have trod. Isaiah is in your ears: “See, darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the nations. But upon you Adonai shines and over you appears God’s glory.”
Once maybe, and maybe once again. “Rise up in splendour Jerusalem: your light has come.” But not tonight. So here you are, in darkness, travelling in hope after a rising star. After a light, at the turn of the year, to guide your steps and make the future bright, brighter than the year’s difficult climb to where you stand exhausted now, remembering, regretting, hoping. Trying to be ready for the rising star. Ready to give whatever you need, all your golden talents, all your hopes like incense, to receive the new light of the world. But all is dark. Not only the valley: but Jerusalem too, city of kings, chosen dwelling place of God, heart of the earth. Dark and cold. But you will wait.
Jerusalem by daylight. City of contention and uneasy peace. Of occupying armies and quarrelling priests. What you will never know, for all your golden gifts and fragrant prayers, is that the star is already risen, the light already come, but shining obscurely miles from here. Not in the city of Kings, but unnoticed, in poverty, a child was born. To a mother and father, refugees fleeing the chosen dwelling place of God. A dim light, a fragile light, one that might be easily put out. So while you wait in the sensible place to see the rising star, to find the light in darkness, the heart of the earth has shifted. The axis of the world has tilted. Once again the radiant presence of God is on the move. As of old Adonai walks with a pilgrim people, as once before God is homeless with the chosen stranger.
Away from the safety of golden palaces and incense-scented temples, the Creator of the Universe has dwindled to infancy, the Word become flesh cannot speak, and the eternal God learns the bitter perfume of embalming oil. The risen star is to be found in all the wrong places. The light shines in darkness and – miracle – the darkness has not overpowered it.