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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Following the Star

There is a time for waiting and watching and wondering, but this is not it. Epiphany is a time to focus, and to follow the star, wherever it leads.

Vicar Meagan McLaughlin
   The Epiphany of Our Lord
   Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2: 1-12

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

When was the last time you set out on a journey, with only a star—a single star—for your guide? When I am going somewhere, I typically want to know where I am supposed to go, how I’m going to get there, and what I should do once I’ve arrived. Failing that, I would at least like an address that I can plug into my GPS. When it comes to following what God has planned for my life, I have often asked God to put a big neon sign in the sky, laying out all the details of the path ahead. The idea of following a star sounds, quite frankly, a little crazy, even terrifying. If the wise men had tried to talk me into joining them, they would have had a hard time getting me out the door!

The wise men, however, seem to have taken their mysterious journey in stride. They were likely astrologers, so it was probably not such a strange thing for them to follow the guidance of the star. They may in fact have roamed often in response to what the skies told them. We don’t know where they were coming from, beyond the general statement “from the East.” We don’t know if they knew each other, or if they were strangers who met following the same star. This journey seems to be exceptional, somehow, even if they were accustomed to star gazing. There is nothing to indicate that the wise men themselves were Jewish, and yet, they travelled for days seeking the king of the Jews, so they could honor him. When the star disappeared, they stopped to ask directions, and continued onward. The wise men followed all of this, seemingly without question. Nothing else seemed to matter.

From the start, looking at it logically, nothing about this journey makes any sense. A star that shines and then disappears, about which they have only partial information. A king with ego issues and ulterior motives. The words of scribes and chief priests who serve the king. The star again. And finally, a dream. No GPS, no map, and truth be told, when they set out the wise men didn’t even know where they were going! Not exactly a pre-planned journey, although it certainly had a focus. Nothing mattered but following the star, going wherever it led them.

What was it about this child, this star, that motivated the wise men to travel such a distance, with almost no information? Why were the wise men so committed to finding Jesus, the baby who would be king of the Jews, that they set out on this incredible journey, and persisted in following the star despite the challenges, until they found him with his mother and father in Bethlehem? What was it they were really seeking?

The promise of this baby born in Bethlehem was not simply a continuation of the house of David, although he was that. He was a king, but he was not an ordinary king. He was not only salvation for the people of Israel, although he did come to save us. More than all of these things, the wise men were seeking the one who would be, as Isaiah describes, a light for all nations, a light that will guide exiles home. The psalmist tells us that this baby who will be king will bring justice for all who are poor. He will deliver those who are oppressed, have pity on those who are weak, redeem those caught in violence. In light of this promise, nothing else mattered, but following the star.

Following the star is no simple task. For one thing, a star is not exactly a neon sign. It is so easy to get distracted from the journey. If we don’t get wrapped up in the details of the end of the journey—where we are going, how we will get there, what we will do when we arrive—there are many other things all around us that clamor for our attention. The constant ping of notifications on laptops, smartphones, iPads, and tablets. Striving for success and approval, as defined by the world around us. Voices that tell us, constantly, that where and who we are is not enough, we have to keep climbing. The busyness of schedules so full that there is no time for gazing at stars, and following the star is out of the question.

Following the star is not easy, but if we take a moment to think about what the star means, we know, just as the wise men did, that nothing else matters. We live in a broken world that is in desperate need of light, mercy, justice, and redemption. We need the God who has come to us in Jesus, who will bring us home, show us what is really important. We need the God who stands with those who are most impacted by poverty, oppression, and violence, and who calls us to make that our priority, above anything else. We need the God who reminds us that if one person among us is suffering, we all suffer. Nothing else matters. We need to follow the star.

God is with us on this journey, and gives us the courage and faith to take it, but God does not follow the star for us. That is our job. There is a time for waiting and watching and wondering, but this is not it. Epiphany is a time to focus, and to follow the star, wherever it leads. Each time we take an action to bring light to the dark places in our world, we are claiming the promise of the one who set the star in the sky to guide us. When we walk the road with someone who is in pain, we open our hearts to the God who promises healing, and forgiveness. When we share the abundance of this world with a neighbor, we are following the star to Jesus, whose mercy will bring a day when no one will go without. When we stand against oppression, and are willing to change so that oppressive systems fall even if it’s not convenient for us, we are proclaiming that there is room on the road for everyone. The wise men knew, and we know, that the star leads to hope not just for some, but for all.

We don’t know where the star will lead us, or how we will get there. On our own, we would never find our way. Following the star is about believing in the promise of God and stepping into the promise, knowing that God is always faithful. It means that, no matter what else we do, or what might call for our attention, there is nothing more important than taking the next step toward the star.

I still don’t know if I would have gone with the wise men, if they had invited me to follow the star with them, but I hope I would have. Because the star, as hard as it may be for us as human beings to keep track of, and as scary as the unknown journey might be, reminds us that God has always been faithful, and always will be faithful, to God’s promises. It is also a reminder that we are not in charge of the journey. We are followers, ones who trust in God, who has never failed. We know the mercy, justice, healing, and love of God, and we respond by taking a step in the direction the star is leading us, not knowing where we will end up. Nothing else matters, as long as we follow the star.


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