Our Second reading today finds us back in the First Testament, reading from the Prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah was writing during a time of exile for the nation of Israel.  They were a country divided with some of the people living in Babylon and some living in Jerusalem.  This was a time of great upheaval, a time of darkness, but even in that discouraging time, they continued to seek the light of God through the words of the prophets…even if the light seemed out of reach.

Isaiah’s words here, are words of promise…a child is going to be born who will release the people from this time because “authority rests upon his shoulder.”  The people are being promised a Messiah who will “establish and uphold” a restored kingdom.

Your bulletin says that our reading is found in Isaiah 9:2-6, I am adding three additional verses and will be reading verses 2-9.  Hear now the words of the prophet Isaiah

Isaiah 9:2-9New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

[a] The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

May God bless to our understanding the words that we hear today.

I would like to start my sermon today by wishing you all a Happy New Year!!!  I know, I know the calendar on my phone and on my desk, says that it won’t be the New Year until the end of December.  But this week, as it does each year, the church gets a head start on the rest of the world by beginning a new year on the first Sunday of Advent.  The liturgical church year, the church calendar measures time just a little differently from our secular, every day calendars.  It’s a little confusing, but it is also kind of neat when you think about it because the church year reminds us that as the church, as Christians, our time is set apart from the rest of the world and because we are set-apart people we have different goals and expectations and obligations that we live by.  Will you pray with me please?    May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen

So here we are in the first week of December, going into Advent, preparing for Christmas.  My planning for the season begins much earlier. Usually towards the end of August most clergy start the Advent/Christmas countdown. We start looking at Advent Calendars, looking ahead to the lectionary readings, take a peek at the advent candles and Christmas eve candle supply and try to figure out how to make Advent and Christmas “new” again.  I was in the midst of some Advent thinking one day in late summer, early fall when Jim Meirs popped into my office. 

“Pastor G”, he said, “I have been thinking about the Christmas Star.  Why is it that some people, like the wise men could see it, and others couldn’t?  And how is it that they knew what it was and that they knew they should follow it?”

I had to admit that I didn’t know the answer to any of his questions but I was intrigued and he did give me an idea for an Advent Series…Follow the Star.  So great!  I had a theme, but now what was I going to do with it? Well I did what most kids these days do.  I googled it.

Follow the Star, Christmas Star, Bethlehem Star, Star over Bethlehem, Jerusalem Star, the magi and the star, moving stars, prophetic stars, stars…if it had star in it I googled it and here are some of the things I found.

First of all, I found this beautiful Advent Series called Follow The Star through a site called Ministrymatters.com which is part of Cokesbury Books and the United Methodist Church.  This site offered us the opportunity to kick our Advent up a notch by taking advantage of some of their multi-media products with scripture suggestions and pictures and banners we can us on our facebook and web page, and bulletin as well as email to you each week. So my teachers heart recognized this as a great find and I hope you will welcome #Followthestar as part of your Advent journey.

The second thing I found was many, many articles on the star itself. Written by astronomers, theoretical physicists, philosophers, natural scientists and biblical scholars, all of them have taken a shot at the Bethlehem Star, and here is what they have come up with…they don’t know. Well, that’s not totally true, there are a lot of thoughts and ideas and speculations and we will be sharing and uncovering more of them in the upcoming weeks.  But for this first Sunday in Advent I wanted us to take some time to think about what it means for us to Follow the star…what is this star to you and me.

Things always get a little dicey when we try to match biblical narrative to actual historical events because it does not always line up leaving the skeptics in the world to offer gleeful “I told you so’s”.  The truth is we can’t seem to line up a historical celestial event that took place way back then, and yet we have this compelling and beloved narrative about a star in the east that lead the world to the feet of a child who would grow up to be recognized as having great authority, who would be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Every Lasting Father, Prince of Peace, and maybe the question we find ourselves wrestling with is… what is the purpose of the star for the world and for us and does it matter? 

I’d like to say that it does matter, deeply.  You see, the beauty of Advent is that we have this set-apart time when we can begin again, a set-apart time that we can devote to God, a set-apart time when we can experience the nearness of God. In our own time of darkness, we are invited to once again find the light, to experience God, right here on earth. When we take on the personal commitment to follow the star we are inviting the holy to break into our daily routine to give us peace and hope and joy and love.

I admit that this year, as we begin the season of Advent, this time of expectation and waiting I find that others along with myself seem to be experiencing a time of diminished hope, I think I have even  lowered my expectation of the possibility of peace and justice in our neighborhoods, let alone the whole world, I feel more down-hearted than I have felt in a long time. How many more times can our thoughts and prayers go out for another round of gun violence and death? Every day we are bombarded with reports of conflict and unrest within our own country and the nations of the world. We seemed to have lost our moral center, lost our ability to find common ground as our politics grow more polarized each day. We have a profound sense of how far we are from being a society marked by justice for all--or even one that can listen to the cries, the stories, of those who suffer injustice, especially in the name of religion and race and sexual identity. And each day we hear more disturbing accounts of women who have long endured harassment, abuse, assault and unfairness which is just now finally coming to a critical point of exposure. With such hopelessness and dread all around us I wonder how we can possibly respond in the days ahead?

Thankfully, Advent jolts us out of ordinary time and into a new year and we have the opportunity to get our hearts and our lives back on track and that is to take on our own personal journey with the Bethlehem Star. Part of that journey is a leap of faith because we will be traveling light (no pun intended) with just a few companions who trust with us that the Bethlehem stars leads somewhere. It’s a leap of faith because others who don’t see it may, with your invitation, be willing to journey with you to find it.  It’s a leap of faith because there will be some who don’t see that star and they might think you are just a little bit crazy…Its an important journey because it can serve to remind ourselves that no matter how bad things feel or are...that we belong to God and as we wait with great anticipation and expectation in Advent that God is waiting just as expectantly to break into our world again with consolation and reconciliation and radical transformation!

So I invite you this Advent to Follow the star with me, even if we don’t know for sure what it is, or how it works and even if no one else can see it?  Let us follow the star into this season of Advent, this New Year for the church with hope and expectation knowing that God is near in every difficulty and heartache, and yet also far ahead of us, calling us forward into the bright new day of justice, healing, and peace for which our hearts long. …Hallelujah Amen