ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH January 7, 2018
STAR OF WONDER
Matthew 2: 1–12 Isaiah 60:1-6
Star light, star bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight. How many of us have wished upon a star? On the church calendar, today is Epiphany. According to the dictionary, the word means “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you”. To Christians, it represents so much more … a holy day celebrating the revelation of the baby Jesus to the Gentiles (and the entire world), as the Magi come to worship the newborn King.
When I was younger, I liked to look at roadmaps and move my finger across the page as we travelled from one location to another. As an adult, I prefer using landmarks, rather than street names in order to find places. And, even though most people nowadays use Mapquest or GPS to find directions, we ALL know you can still manage to get lost while using them. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find our way … even with help.
Over the centuries, we’ve used many things to guide us, to keep us on course: stones, trees, famous landmarks, inukshuks, signposts … In the desert, with shifting sand, heatstroke, and mirages, there’s not much to guide. No major landmarks, except for the odd oasis and the off-chance that one might meet another traveller. In the desert, if you want to find your way, you’re forced to look up … for “skymarks” in the form of stars and constellations. Some are known, such as: Alpha Centauri, Orion, Polaris, and those named by the 12 signs of the zodiac. Others have yet to be discovered.
In ancient times, astrology and astronomy were closely related, studying the stars to discern information about what might happen on earth and in the heavens. The Magi, who searched for a baby in a country far away, were scholar-priests, experts in astrology and the interpretation of dreams. They were not humble shepherds, but men of power and influence. These “foreigners” came from the East (probably Persia, present-day Iran), braving the elements with confidence and faith that The Star would, ultimately, lead them to their destination. For 800 or 900 miles, they persevered. The light of the Star did not illumine their entire journey but, step by step, knowing only that they were headed West, they trusted it would lead them to the baby, born to be King of the Jews. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they asked King Herod about the child’s location (because you’d think a king would be born in a palace) and were directed to Bethlehem, 9 km away … pretty accurate for following a star!
And when they finally reached the end of their journey, these men of distinction bowed before a baby … kneeling in adoration and praise and offering Him their most prized possessions: gold, frankincense and myrrh; probably unaware that these gifts of portent would foreshadow His kingship, priesthood, and death.
Thousands of years later, the heavens are still a mystery. With an estimated 100 billion stars, the Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our solar system. Multiply that by 10 trillion galaxies in the observable universe and that may only be a fraction of the number of stars. Scientists say there are ten times more stars in the night sky than grains of sand in the world’s deserts and beaches … I can’t count that high
As we begin this new year of 2018, we ask ourselves, what guides us in life when we don’t know the way? Sometimes it’s other people. We follow the lives of the rich and famous … movie “stars”, rock “stars” … yet often the paths they lead us down, end in destruction. Based on astrology, some follow horoscopes, believing their lives are “written in the stars”. What “star” are you following? Where is it taking you? What will be its ultimate destination?
When it’s pitch black outside and we see a small glimmer of light, we want to follow it, even if we’re not sure where it’s going. Jesus is our Polaris, our North Star, pointing True North, giving us a reliable reference point when travelling the road of life. He promises to equip us for the journey. When we feel as if we can’t take another step, He promises never to leave us or forsake us, or give us more than we can handle. When we are travelling through the barren desert or tossed on stormy seas; when we lose our compass, we can rely on Him.
What do we bring to the journey? Our hopes and fears, skills and gifts, faith and doubts, strengths and weaknesses … And what does this journey entail?
Danger. Following God can be dangerous. These Wise Men knew there was the possibility of encountering robbers along the way, yet they managed to protect the valuable gifts for the newborn king. They had to exchange their return flight tickets in order to avoid the wrath of Herod. Disciples were imprisoned and whipped for following their Master. And Jesus, Himself, being in the perfect will of God, was crucified.
Mystery. Following God is often a venture into the unknown. The Wise Men had strong motivation to follow the star, however, they had few details. They had to pitch tents in strange places, eat in foreign restaurants, and deal with strange people. They accepted uncertainty and moved forward with confidence.
Cost. Following God comes at a price. Food, gifts, transportation, lodging – there was an all-inclusive price tag for the trip. As believers, we’re encouraged to give of our time, gifts, abilities and possessions to God to be used for God’s glory.
Focus. Following God is not aimless. Even though they weren’t sure of the exact route (and may have even taken a few detours), they knew their final destination. As on their journey, ours brings us into relationship with Jesus – the whole reason for following The Star in the first place!
God’s love shines brightly for all to see – not just in the corner of a stable or cave in Bethlehem. The Light-giver, The Light of the World, is also The Life-giver who reconciles us to God through Jesus.
The world needs more “epiphanies”. With the Lord’s guidance, we will always be drawn to a closer relationship with Jesus.
As we embrace this new year of 2018, may we reflect on our journey thus far … May we say with Matthew (4: 16) “…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”
And may we say with the prophet Isaiah (60:1-3) “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Let us take a few moments to reflect.