Our gospel reading may feel strangely out of place today. While we consider the story of the Wise men, the Wise PEOPLE to be a part of the Christmas story, we don’t usually see them this early. They usually finish the story. But Advent is a time for being out of order. In this set-apart time and we have the opportunity to put the last first, to stop and to consider what we are searching for as we follow the star
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, [f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, [g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
May God bless to our understanding the Words that we hear today.
Shooting stars, comets, the movement of the planets in the sky have always fascinated people. There are few things that rival the beauty of a clear night sky, especially if you are able to view it away from the glare of the city lights. Lying on a beach looking out over the horizon of the water with not a man-made light in sight and the stars hanging so low it feels like you could truly reach out and touch them is a magical moment. I am not alone in that thinking, for centuries people have been fascinated with what happens above us in the heavens. It was that heavenly fascination that brought a group of star gazers to Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. 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, what was happening in the night sky thousands of years ago that brought the Magi to Bethlehem? It might seem a bit Grinchy on my part to try to dissect such a beloved image of Christmas as the star of Bethlehem, but a quiet astronomical debate about this phenomenon has been bubbling away for decades. The big question on every one’s mind is: “Could some real cosmic event have drawn this group of astronomers on a journey to find a newborn king?”
The kings, the wise men, were religious scholars known as the Magi - revered Babylonian astronomers and astrologists. They studied the stars and planets, interpreting the meaning behind cosmic events. Anything very unusual was considered an omen, so the star must have been both rare and visually spectacular. Prof. David Hughes, an astronomer from the University of Sheffield feels that it would have had a very clear message for the Magi. He feels that the
star of Bethlehem was probably not a star at all, and that it was more than one single event. "If you read the Bible carefully," says Hughes, "the Magi saw something when they were in their own country - so they travelled to Jerusalem and had a word with King Herod. According to the story, the Magi told Herod of the sign they had seen and, when they left Jerusalem for Bethlehem, they saw something again". Dr. Hughes feels that there was a series of events known as a triple conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn - with the two planets coming close together in the sky three times over a short period. When this happens, you get an alignment between the Sun, the Earth, Jupiter and Saturn.
It is a scientific fact that in 7 BC there was a celestial interplay between Jupiter and Saturn. It is a historical fact that in ancient times that planets had meanings. What we know now as Jupiter, the largest planet represented the “king of the heavens” and the planet now known as Saturn was called “the protector of Israel” so one can well imagine that when the Magi saw these two planets interweaving in the heavens that they would feel this was an omen of epic proportions. They obviously felt drawn to that bright light, so much so that they collected a variety of special gifts to offer whatever king they felt they would find under that star. They set off to search for the person that could command this epic display of celestial magnificence, prepared to worship at their feet. But as they traveled, they must have wondered who or what they would find in the east and they had to wonder what it possibly could mean for them. And wondering all that…they went anyway.
Those are all questions that we still find ourselves asking today as we follow the star, searching for who is underneath it’s still pulsating light. What does it all mean, this story about searching Magi, and a star and the birth of a baby. How do we insert ourselves into this story? How do we search for a baby that has already been born and for a king who will come again? How do we follow the star?
There are some who say that it was the Magi’s job to watch for stars, to follow the star of Bethlehem so long ago, after all, they were astronomers and astrologists. They already found the Christ child so why in the world do we need to keep looking? I guess to that I would say that as Christians it is our job to follow the star too. Because even though over 2000 years separates us from the first Magi there are those who like to say that Wise People still seek that child born so long ago.
I believe we need to be Wise People who follow the star and keep searching because we want to find meaning in life outside of ourselves. Something that will help us to make sense out of what is going on in life. Maybe you have found that a self-centered, all -about- me kind of life has left you feeling empty and lonely. Maybe you have been trying to figure things out and all your have figured out so far is that you have way more questions than you have answers. All those things and more are why we should take some time to follow the star, searching in the direction it is pointing us to.
I believe we need to be Wise People and follow the star to keep searching because it is a reminder to us in a time of darkness that God’s love is not just for some people and some race and some of the world. God’s love is for all people, of all races, of all the world.
I believe that we need to be Wise People and follow the star, to keep searching as a reminder that the world is dark, and life can be overwhelming. God never promised to eliminate our darkness or that our lives would be perfect. God did promise to give us light, a light in the midst of darkness, a light to help us live in this dark world. We need to hold onto the words of Isaiah “Rise. Shine. Get up. Your light has already come!”
I believe that we need to be Wise people and follow the star, to keep searching because it is in our searching that we will find our truth.
I believe that we need to be Wise people and follow the star, to keep searching because there are a million lights around us, but there is only one light that can lead us through life, the light and the love of Jesus Christ.
I would like to leave you with a poem today. Its called The Star Signal by Andrew King
Not every journey toward the Christ
Starts like the magi’s in darkness,
But there might come
a time when, in the empty hours
of an otherwise unremarkable night,
you have happened to look up at the usual sky,
and noticed, almost by accident, between
passages of gray beasts of slow-moving cloud
the bright bloom of a strange star flowering,
and something begins to open a little
somewhere beneath your skin,
as if that new wedge of light in the sky
had inserted itself into your soul,
not enough to cause you any hurt, but just
enough that you feel a pang, the twinge
of something like longing, as if your eyes
in the silence have become ears
in the darkness, and you are hearing
a holy summons,
distant, but ringing like a silver trumpet
in the chambers of your listening heart,
and you gaze at that star where it stands
in the sky dropping dust on the night horizon,
and you think it might be signaling
a holy Presence in the world
and a road you can take to meet it,
and that such a road, lit with such promise,
might lead to a great adventure,
where life becomes challenged
and changed and as new as the sky
above a better world.
And so you pack, and you leave
on this journey, this journey
where Christ is not only waiting
but walking your road at your side,
and you follow that light
as it closes the distance,
as it reaches deep within you,
you carry in your hand. Hallelujah, Amen