Matthew 2:1-12 (CEB)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was.
When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
January 6-7, 2018
“What Star Are You Following?”
January 6th, which was yesterday, is always the Day of Epiphany on the church calendar. Epiphany is the celebration of the arrival of the Magi who traveled long distances to greet the Christ child.
The word Epiphany means a sudden, striking understanding of something, and comes from the Greek word meaning ‘appearance,’ or ‘coming to the light.’
The Epiphany portion of the Christmas story appears only in the Gospel of Matthew, but has its storyline in the passage from Isaiah that we heard earlier (Is. 60:1-6). That passage began by saying, “Arise! Shine! Your light has come…”
The Scripture passages from Isaiah and Matthew together, make for a powerful witness to God’s commitment to reach all the world with the good news of God’s inclusive, redeeming love and light made visible in the Christ child.
(Read Matthew 2:1-12)
I have always been fascinated by this brief Gospel story that tells of the unique visitors to the Christ Child. There is a lot we are not told and do not know about these travelers following a star, but there are some things we have learned from the work of scholars.
We do know that they were probably some type of astrologers who spent time studying the sky. But they were not of the same religious background as Mary and Joseph and Jesus…they were not Jewish; they were not people that followed the Hebrew Law. In a nutshell, they were strangers, they were foreigners; they were outsiders.
From the story itself, we do not know who they were, where they specifically came from, or how many of them there were. We also do not know exactly how long it took them to get to Bethlehem or how old Jesus was by the time they got there. But, all these things have little bearing on the promise of the story, which is a story to tell us once again about the great gift of love God has given the world through Jesus.
In Confirmation class, we often add to our lesson for the evening with a short episode of Chuck Knows Church. Chuck teaches and interacts in a fun way with all things Church. I invite us to watch a segment about the Magi following the star…(video).
It’s hard not to be fascinated by the stars in the sky. We have probably all known the beauty and amazement of a clear night sky covered with stars or been in an area away from the city lights where the stars are bright and look close enough to touch.
Stars are fascinating and produce much wonder. And not only the stars in the sky, but stars that come in human form and compete for our attention…movie stars, T.V. stars, sports stars, and music stars.
At some point, you may have been a fan of the original Star Search television show hosted by Ed McMahon and ran from 1983-1995. Many music stars today got their start on Star Search…names like Britney Spears, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, LeAnn Rimes, and Usher.
Now, it’s shows like American Idol, America’s Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars that capture our attention and time. These shows all include people seeking stardom or seeking to advance their stardom…and we follow along, by faithfully tuning in each night.
You may be one that routinely arranges your schedule, blocks off time and can’t be interrupted when Dancing with the Stars in on! Perhaps some of you have even called in to vote for your favorite star.
All of this is in good fun, but the questions still remains, What star are we following? When we must choose from all the stars that vie for our attention, how do we choose which one to follow? How do we know the star we are following is the right star and not a distractor star?
It seems like those are the same choices and decisions the Magi must have had to make in following that star that led to the Christ child.
But then when the Magi saw that the star they were following had stopped, the Scripture says “they were filled with joy.” Then, when they encountered the Christ child their hearts and minds were opened and the Scripture tells us they fell to their knees, honored him and worshiped.
Then, with their hearts and minds still open, God was able to instruct them in a dream to go a different way home to avoid the dangers and harm of King Herod.
We don’t know what happened next for the Magi or how life was when they returned home, but we do know that because of their persistent, disciplined, purposeful following of that star, they encountered Jesus and were not the same.
As we enter this New Year of 2018, we are moving into our next focus as a faith community with our Four-Year Ministry Plan of H.O.P.E. This year, we are focusing on the letter ‘P’ of H.O.P.E., which is Purposeful Living.
When we are purposeful in our living; we are paying attention, we have intention, we have joy, and we are disciplined in doing the things that will keep us and keep our children following the stars that lead to Jesus.
And, those purposeful disciplines are pretty simple…they won’t always be easy, but they are simple. I am going to briefly name four purposeful, spiritual disciplines, but there are many more…as many as the stars.
The four I am thinking of are:
First, prayer. Whatever prayer looks like for you; spending time in prayer, individually and together with others and as families, will put us in touch with God and keep us following the stars that will lead to Jesus.
Second is worship. Worshiping regularly with a faith community and together as families, will keep our hearts and minds grateful and open to God’s leading. And offering back to God our thanks and praise in worship is our calling as people of faith.
Third is spending time with the Scriptures. It is said that if you never pick up the Bible, you won’t miss it. In this year of Purposeful Living, can you spend either more time in some type of study of the Scriptures or begin spending 10 minutes in the morning or evening using a devotional that gets you reading the scriptures? Once again, if you are raising a family, can you find ways to do a daily family devotion?
And fourth is service. Service always follows our prayers and our worship and is a natural outcome from our time in Scripture.
I firmly believe that when we are in some type of care and service to others beyond ourselves, we will be led to see the Christ because we will be offering Christ in our actions. And when we are modeling that for our children, they will follow.
So, back to the Epiphany question…What star are you following?
Sometimes that star may be as bright as those we see in a clear, starry night sky. Other times, the star will be a faint light that is tricky to notice and hard to follow. And still other times, the star may feel like it is only held deep inside ourselves…but still we follow.
Storyteller Derek Maul tells about a time when he had the privilege of working with severely emotionally disturbed and autistic children during his teaching career. One year during the Advent season, he says he was waiting in line at the grocery store when he noticed a bright splash of color wedged in a stack of cards produced by a local charity. The bright color was a picture of a child wearing a zany Santa hat and looking intently at the star of Bethlehem.
Derek Maul says he thought he recognized the artwork and sure enough, there inside he saw the signature of one of his former fifth-grade students and poignant words reproduced from the boy’s distinctive wobbly handwriting. The troubled child had written, “Deep inside me I carry a star. A light sometimes only I can see.”
That’s Epiphany…the appearance of God’s light that leads us to follow with discipline and purpose until we see the deep and abiding hope and love and light of God’s presence made known to us in Christ.
So, keep following…And, whether you are dancing with the stars or simply following the stars, remember to let God lead!
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.