Seeking Stars – a Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12
Having taken a break from our Narrative Lectionary readings for Advent, we return to them this morning, moving from the Old Testament, full of history, poetry, and prophecy to the New Testament. Between now and Easter we will walk through the life of Jesus as told by the evangelist Matthew. Along the way we will encounter some of the most famous stories of Jesus life. Which is where we begin this morning… Picking up our Christmas story with a visit from three travelers.
Having been taught be preaching professors to raise more questions about what a famous Biblical text doesn’t say, than what it does, this is one of those stories for me where it is easy to get bogged down in the details of the questions that it raises…
How many magi were there?
Did they really bring three gifts?
Was Jesus still tucked neatly into his manger, or had he grown up some…and like most 2 year olds, was out back playing with truck and diggers in the dirt?
It is easy to get wrapped up is the questions revolving around this story.
My friend John Craigge, a wonderful musician who tours nationally as a folk singer, a couple of years ago rewrote the Christmas story how he thought it might have happened. When the “wise dudes” as John sings show up with their traditional gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh they get turned away by Joseph and Mary.
They then go to the nearest Walmart and exchange these lavish gifts for the much more practical –
a years worth of diapers,
some Sponge Bob dolls, and a brand new rice cooker,
some baby food,
a couple of Bob Dylan albums,
and some brand new swaddling clothes for the baby Jesus.
I find that it is helpful to have folk singing friends who help you reinterpret and reimagine a story that you have read and re-read so many times over. So I’m thankful for John, and James Taylor, and others like them who have re-imagined this famous Christmas season text.
So this week, as I was reading this text over and over, there was one phrase that kept reaching out to me like an old friend waiting to go on a wintery adventure together. In Matthew’s telling this little phrase refers to the movement of the star, though it surely could be in reference to destination of the magi. “Where the Child Was…”
Where the child was… There are a couple of things I absolutely love about this four-word phrase –
It is about awareness.
Aware of your surroundings, aware of your giftedness, aware of the divine you encounter within and around you. The Magi were well aware of what they had to offer the child before them. As we see Jesus born again in our lives and in the world, what are we prepared to offer him?
It is about the movement of God.
Where the child was implies that God is not a static being, fixed in one time and place. God is on the move – the Spirit is dynamic and blows change throughout the world. Oftentimes the wild goose is used as an image in Celtic spirituality to evoke unpredictability, beauty, and grace. Where can you follow the wild goose as we head into this new year?
And finally, it is about journey.
It is about going to a place that is holy and encountering the divine, whether in the form of a child or a grandparent, a father or a mother. It is about picking up what we have and going on an adventure. The Magi followed the star and it took them on a great journey to the feet of God. As we follow God, where might we find ourselves journeying together?
Four simple words…
Where the child was…
The magi, no matter the number, type of gift, distance traveled, or any of the other details…they went to where the child was and presented their gifts. The star that they followed took them to the very place they needed to be.
Where the child was… It begs the question, “Where do we see Christ today? Where is the child?”
As gifts are opened up, and meals are shared with family and friends, it’s a great Christmas question to ask, “Where do we see Christ today?”
Last night on the evening new there was a story of a garbage worker who found an unused gift card, accidentally thrown out with the Christmas trash. Having found out that it still had money on it, he pocketed the card, and rather than spending it on himself, returned it to the home where he found it once he got off work.
As a way of saying thanks for his generosity the owners of the gift card sent a thank you note with an envelope of cash – more than the card was worth with the news reporter to give the man as he was interviewed. There was gift giving all around. As trivial as it seems, I think an infant Christ might have giggled just a little bit at the exchange.
So there’s two questions to think about… Where is your star leading you? And where do you see the face of Christ?
We see Christ in the face of homeless who seek a warm shelter on these cold winter nights.
We see Christ in the face of children in need of a better education.
We see Christ in Police Officers going to work day after day, as well as in those protesting for a more just society.
We see Christ in those around us following a star like those wise men long ago.
And as we’re reminded by Ann Weems, in a poem titled It Is Not Over…
It is not over,
There are always newer skies
God can throw stars.
When we begin to think
that we can predict the Advent of God,
that we can box the Christ
in a stable in Bethlehem,
that’s just the time
that God will be born
in a place we can’t imagine and won’t believe.
Those who wait for God
watch with their hearts and not their eyes,
for angel words.
 Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem