31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
January 9, 2022
‘What’s the deal with star gifts?’ was the comment on a clergy Facebook group I belong to.
‘What’s the deal with star gifts?’ was a question as much about the in’s and out’s of this Epiphany ritual as it was also a question about meaning and purpose, essentially asking ‘What’s the big deal about a word printed on a piece of copy paper?’
And really, these paper stars are not a big deal. It is the faith we bring to these paper stars that is the big deal. It is how we use them to nurture our Christian faith journeys that is the meaningful part. It is how we use our star word to listen and connect with God that makes it a star gift.
Recently, I have been reading a book by Henri Nouwen, a deeply thoughtful Christian writer and Roman Catholic clergyperson, who passed away twenty five years ago. The book is called Following Jesus: Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety. We are living in the age of all ages when it comes to anxiety, and Henri Nouwen’s words, written over 25 years ago, still ring true to my heart.
In the introduction, he says he wrote the book “to help you and me to hear [God’s] voice of love, to hear that voice that whispers in your ear, ‘Follow me.’” Nouwen continues writing, “The voice is very sensitive. It can be very quiet. It is sometimes hard to hear. But the voice of love is already in you. You may have already heard it…. Listen. It says, ‘I love you,’ and calls you by name. It says, ‘Come, come. Follow me.’” (Henri Nouwen, Following Jesus: Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety, 13-14)
This is what the ritual of star gifts is about. It is about listening for God’s voice of love. Listening even when God’s voice is very quiet and sometimes hard to hear. Listening so we can hear God call us by name; listening so we can respond to Christ’s invitation to come, come and follow him.
That is the big deal about star gifts – using this ritual as a spiritual practice to tune our heads and hearts to God’s still speaking voice. Which is why my favorite part of Star Gift worship is hearing how you heard God’s voice of love speaking to you throughout the year.
Today, I have sharings from three members of the FCC Bristol community. They are your neighbors. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ, and just like you, they are seeking to be faithful to the way of Jesus Christ and hear God’s voice of love inviting them to come and follow. Thank you to Mari, Lisa, and Chris for sharing. And thank you to Sandy and Brenda who cut all of these paper stars.
Mari A. shares:
“My star gift was boldness. What I felt God telling me was that boldness wasn’t something to strive for. Boldness was His gift that was already there. All I needed to do was acknowledge it and be aware of it. He has guided me as to when and with whom to use it.”
Lisa H wrote:
“My star gift was seek. Verse was Matthew 6:25-34. I think when times this year became frustrating, and the world seemed to be spinning out of control, I feel so discouraged. One day, I sat down to get ready for Bible study and when I opened my Bible, there was my star gift word. Upon seeing it, I read the verse that was written on the star. All at once, I felt a peace come over me, like the answer had been here the entire time. I just had to “seek” it. After reading the verse, I decided, that I would not get so stressed and worried about this pandemic because I was lifting it up to God. He knows His plans and He has this under control. I may not understand but in God’s time I will. He does not want us to fear or worry. If we seek His comfort and lean on Him, He will lead us through the tough times.”
And Chris shared:
“My star gift was the word generous. I realized in 2021 that too often I only thought of that word in financial ways. Be more generous to charities. Pledge more to the church. My Star Gift reminded me to be generous with my time, attention, patience, and forgiveness.”
Later in the service, I will share details about choosing star gifts for this coming year. As we move into our time of listening and discernment, I wish to share a prayer Henri Nouwen wrote. A prayer I hope speaks to all of our faithful and yet sometimes anxious hearts as we listen to God’s voice of love and boldly seek to follow Jesus Christ:
Be with me today. Listen to my confusion and help me know how to live it. I don’t know the words. I don’t know the way. Show me the way. You are a quiet God. Help me to listen to your voice in a noisy world. I want to be with you. I know you are peace. I know you are joy. Help me to be a peaceful and joyful person. These are the fruits of living close to you. Bring me close to you, dear Lord.
(Henri Nouwen, Following Jesus: Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety, 14-15)
Traditionally, during the singing of “We Three Kings”, everyone is invited to come forward and choose a star gift. As we embrace our calling to be a hybrid community, both in person and online, there are a few ways you can choose your 2022 star gift. Choose your own any Sunday in January; Receive one in the mail, or choose one virtually. After the benediction, the virtual adult choir will sing “We Three Kings” as different star gifts appear on the screen.
As I say every year, choose your star because it is your favorite color, choose it because of where it is. Close your eyes and pick one at random. However you choose, trust that God’s spirit is leading you. Trust that God’s voice of love is calling you to pick the right star gift to guide you in 2022, the right star gift to help you connect with God so you can come and follow Jesus.
I also say this every year. Do not assume you know immediately why you got this particular star gift. Do not assume you immediately know why you got this star gift. Star gifts are a way to hear God’s voice, and because God’s voice of love is quiet, this discernment takes openness and time, sometimes a year, sometimes more than a year.
If you are 12 or younger and pick a star with a word you do not understand, then you can pick another star. Each star gift has a scripture reference on it that may help as you figure out where God is leading you in 2022.
So be spirit led in choosing a star and then place your star gift somewhere you will see it every day. On the mirror in your bedroom, on the refrigerator, in your work or learning space. Put your star gift somewhere you will see it and ask “Where are You leading me, Holy God? What are You saying to me?”
And with that guidance, I pray you will go into this week knowing that God is love and God loves you. I pray you may be blessed to hear God’s voice of love calling you to come and follow, blessing the world with Christ’s love.