It’s coming! It’s coming here! It was all over the general media and the web. A solar eclipse would be over the US, summer of 2017 and scientists – and lots of other people – were going wild with excitement.
We were on vacation the week before – backpacking in the wilderness of Montana – and it would be a 12 hour drive to get to the “zone” – where---for 2 and a half minutes --- we could watch the moon block out the light of the sun… as long as no clouds came overhead. Sounded a bit crazy… so of course we had to go.
There had been so much buzz in Wyoming about the eclipse – and some of the locals were not excited about being over-run with people from “outside”. News media warned about police patrolling the highways – and fining anyone who stopped along the roadside. Others worried about a shortage of gasoline in the sparsely populated parts of the state that were going to be over-run by hoards of people. Scanning the websites of the various small towns -- we didn’t think we could handle a big city whoopla after our wilderness trek – we found a small town, Shoshoni. It was on the outskirts of an Indian reservation. It’s website simply said, “Come to Shoshoni. You’ll be welcome here.” We decided to check it out.
We hadn’t made reservations soon enough so none of the nearby small towns in the “zone” had any room left in the inn. Even the parks – both Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and local campgrounds were full. Finally, I ended up making a reservation at an overpriced motel at what they said was the last room in Cody. We made plans to get up at 4:30 to make the journey… not knowing what we would find.
4:30AM came early. But, we climbed into our car… got some gas at the local gas station and helped some people from England navigate the gas pumps. We then joined a trickle of headlights on a canyon road seeking a place to see our big star, our sun, go dark for two and a half minutes.
We were seekers. We had been told what we would see – and yet… we wanted to see it ourselves.
Perhaps that’s what the astronomers of ancient days – we call them magi – or wisemen were wanting too. They knew the night sky. They had studied it. So when they saw a big new star in the sky, to them it signaled something new – the birth of a new king. And they wanted to see it themselves.
Although many legends and stories have been told about the wisemen -- we don’t know much about them. The only report we have is this one from Matthew. They travelled a great distance – probably at considerable expense. And while they had no guarantee of finding what they sought, they persisted. They asked for help from one that they assumed would know, King Herod. They asked: "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” Herod didn’t know – and instead became anxious. But, perhaps because he was curious, or perhaps because he did not want to appear ignorant, he sought help from the religious leaders of the day.
Bethlehem, they said. According to scripture, the king was to be born in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is only about five miles from Jerusalem. But even today, it is small by comparison. At that time, it was a pretty small place – not a place that one would guess would be the birthplace of a king. And yet… they headed that way.
Traveling the canyon road from Cody to Shoshoni Wyoming, the scenery was magnificent. Following the lights of the line of cars in front of us, we made our way up and down deep valleys and around wind-swept red rock mountains. We were tempted to stop. But all the food we had left were some energy bars and snacks that no one could stand the sight of anymore after eating variations of them for the past week. So we pushed on to Shoshoni.
Shoshoni was in a flat dry area away from the riverbed. The town’s Main street was also the county road in and out of that town. Half of the stores were boarded up. It looked pretty bleak and desolate. But there were handmade signs pointing towards “Free Eclipse Parking.” We followed the signs. The town was ready. There was a tiny community park with satellite bathrooms– and one small old drive-in with a flashing sign: Welcome Eclipse watchers!
We parked our car in a still almost empty field by the park. There were others there too – but nothing like what we had imagined. We went to find some food at the drive-in. The owner, a middle-aged Native woman, her daughters and her mother were all behind the counter. She welcomed us with an eager voice, “What can I get you?” We’ve got… and then she went into a list of all of the special items she had prepared for this day. We ordered, but she kept on going…make sure you come back. They said there would be lots of people so I’ve ordered tons of food, I’ve got my sons and grandsons and uncles in the back making pancakes and frying ribs… we’ve got Bar-be-que and smoothies and..” she kept going.
My heart went out to her. She sounded as if she had risked her future on this day. And, at that point, there weren’t many of us in that little half-ghost town. I promised we would be back to pick up lunch after the eclipse.
After the reception they got in Jerusalem, the wisemen could have gotten discouraged. After all, no one there seemed to think that a new king had been born. But they continued on. And… outside the gleam of the city of Jerusalem, they followed the star again… When it stopped…they were full of joy. They were just where they were supposed to be.
As for my family… we settled into our spot with camp chairs and our special eclipse viewing glasses and waited. And as we waited, more and more cars came. People came from the surrounding area – and from far away both East and West. People started to greet one another, asking “where are you from?” and a community began to be formed – gathered to witness this one astronomical event.
It seemed we waited for a long time. But then, suddenly, we noticed that it was getting colder… and darker. The moon was beginning to cover the sun. We put on our eclipse glasses to watch. The birds began to sing and it was twilight… we looked and the colors of the sunset surrounded us in every direction…a complete 360 degrees. A hush came over the people and then a cry… “look!” But it was dark.
We took off our glasses and we could see the outline of the sun. The light of the corona danced around the edges of the moon and filled me with inexplicable and yet indescribable joy. It was beautiful.
Epiphany. Epiphany means: the revealing of God in Jesus Christ. The first epiphany happened when the wisemen followed the star. And when it stopped, they were filled with joy. They responded by worshipping Christ and leaving kingly gifts.
That Epiphany was unique. And yet…God in Jesus continues to be revealed to us. I felt the wonder of God’s presence in the light of the eclipse of the sun. It filled me with awe and wonder. But I also felt God’s presence in what happened afterwards.
We went back to the driveway – and people were lined up to support the woman running the little drive- through. It was the most expensive meal that we bought on that trip – but I was happy to do it. It seemed right to support this woman and her family.
As we drove back through the town, I noticed there was much need of help in that little town…and opportunities to do so. But we couldn’t stay… Like the wisemen, we had a long journey home ahead of us. But.. we were filled with joy. This little Epiphany reminded me that God continues to reveal God’s self in creation and in our neighbor. And so as we left. I felt filled up with beauty and light and life… and ready to go home to serve our neighbor here.
May God fill you with joy – for Christ has come! And may your cup be filled with little Epiphanies so that you can joyfully serve Christ in your neighbor. In Jesus’ name. Amen.