The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Second Sunday after Christmas Day
Well before the time Jesus is born, in a land way to the east of the Jews, a group called magi, wise men, gather to pray, read ancient writings, and scan the night skies. Their tribe, for generations, believed the Lord of Majesty would send a star to announce a child-king’s birth. That king will bring The Lord’s salvation for all people.
One night the magi notice a bright object. The light grows more intense and comes closer. Without speaking a word they each know. The time has come. The Lord is giving the sign – a star that comes for them. So they gather gifts for the child others long ago set aside, pack, say goodbyes, and depart to wherever the star leads them.
What we don’t know about this story far outweighs what we do know. Where are they from – how many? Who are they really? How do they know about this star? Why do others not see the star? Interesting questions with no answers – for to see this star takes imagination, not proof and facts. Some truth is so deep only those who yearn and imagine, will see. As theologian Karl Barth once said, “A person without imagination is more of an invalid than one who lacks a leg.”
After months and months, the star finally stops over Jerusalem’s palace. Figuring the child-king must be here, they knock at the door. Soon they’re before King Herod, telling him why they, foreigners are there, which is to pay homage to the newly born “King of the Jews.” Herod turns pale, gulps noticeably, starts shaking. “I am the king over the Jews. Rome says so,” he thinks. Herod summons the local religious scholars to ask about a special king who one day is to be born. They Google “Messiah texts” and return to tell Herod, “Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.” Smiling and nodding, Herod thanks and dismisses them.
Herod invites the magi into his inner office, offers a brandy to warm them, and not just from the cold outdoors. Quietly he says, “Bethlehem is where you’ll find him. And on your return, stop by and let me know where you find him. I’ve some homage to pay, too.” That’s the warmth Herod wants to convey.
Interesting isn’t it, that those who know scripture are so disinterested in Herod’s interest in a Jewish Messiah. Knowing and quoting scripture doesn’t mean one really knows God; showing up for church doesn’t necessarily mean we are worshipping; because people say they love God and one another, doesn’t mean they will.
The magi leave the palace. In the night sky their star waits for them. This time it stops not over a place, but a shack of a house, not a palace. Confusing for them, probably, but joy overwhelms the darkness of confusion. They knock at the door.
The door opens and there’s the holy family who are not sure who these strangers are, why they have come, or what they want. The magi fall to their knees and pay homage to the child-king. After that, they present the gifts they brought – a piece of gold and two bottles of cologne? What sort of gifts are these for a baby? If gifts were important, the magi would likely have stopped by a Baby Boutique or Toys R Us store on their way. This child is more interested to receive the gift of one’s self, than any present we bring.
In case the magi hadn’t figured Herod out, they each receive the same dream, warning them to avoid Jerusalem on their way home. They leave, going a different way home, no longer needing a star in the sky. The star having done its work is now safely lodged in their hearts.
What star guides you? Where does your star lead? Stars guide sailors and aviators alike through the night. We spot the Dippers by looking for the North Star. For some their “north star” points their direction, their goal. A star can be a verse of scripture – a story – that draws you back to church, a tug in your heart that draws you to God. It may be a hymn, a poem, or even a prayer. Whatever leads you to God’s heart and perfect love is your star. Just remember, finding and seeing the star is not enough. Being led to behold God appearing in human flesh to live among us fulfills the star’s purpose.
And when we finally see and behold all that God is doing, we too will fall on our knees in praise and worship. Why? Because we finally know how much God welcomes and loves each of us into his holy reign, all God does to show us. Listen closely. God gives us a new name: “Beloved, forgiven, my child.” So overwhelmed we respond by giving the only gift we can – ourselves, as meager as we may be.
The best gift to offer is you. When we see where the star leads us, we’ll naturally overflow with gratitude. We’ll have to do something of ourselves in response. We’ll sing carols and hymns, pray, receive bread and wine, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, challenge this world’s powers with God’s love for all. We’ll come to worship, not because we have to, but because we can’t be anywhere else.
Did this story even happen? I can’t prove it did, or didn’t. It’s true when, though, when outsiders become insiders and no one’s left in the cold; when we love God and each other without any conditions. The story is true when we finally are in a serious and committed relationship with God. The story is true when we realize God can even make people like us into stars, using what little light we have to offer, to lead others to the same love and joy the magi find in the Christ child. Guess what – you are a star, at least the potential’s there. And no application is necessary – you just need some imagination. Do you think anyone will notice?