Star Light, Star Bright – Jan 6, 2019
Star Light, Star Bright
A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
January 6, 2019
Main Idea: God illuminates us.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today is Epiphany Sunday, the day we celebrate the Magi’s visit to the Holy Family. The word Epiphany means “a sudden and profound understanding of something” (yourdictionary.com); an appearance or manifestation of the divine; a seeing clearly something that had not been seen before. Epiphany has long been associated with light, which makes sense. A light in the darkness allows us to see what had been hidden. Jesus as Incarnate God is, by definition, an epiphany throughout his life, death, and resurrection. In our day to day existence, Jesus our Christ can appear to us in unexpected ways to reveal and illuminate the divine among us.
This week I have been fascinated by the Far side of the Moon. It is so interesting to see the photos and contemplate the historic landing where nothing made by humans had ever been. I have always loved astronomy, the idea of planets, stars, the universe stretching out beyond our knowledge and imagination. But as a person who wore glasses, I had trouble using a telescope. The glasses made it awkward to see, and if I took my glasses off I would need to change the telescope’s focus so much that no one else could see through it.
Watching the stars requires patience, and knowledge, and trust that you know what you are looking at. Watching the stars requires focus and the ability to resist distraction because if you glance at a light close by then you can no longer see the stars as well. Some stars can only be seen with our peripheral vision! Mostly stars are flickers of light to which we give passing attention.
Our Scripture text for this morning is so familiar to us, not only the story but the images of the 3 Kings and the bright star blazing from Christmas cards and carols and our memory. This morning we sang “O Star of Wonder, Star of Night, Star with Royal Beauty Bright”. But here is an idea which might confound you. The star that the Magi saw may not have been a blazing light. No where in the text does it say the star blazed or dominated the sky. In fact, the story does not mention whether anyone other than the Magi ever saw it! Certainly Herod and his “wise men” knew nothing about it.
But the Magi saw it. They knew the night sky, they were familiar with the stars until one new star appeared. A flicker of something new, a flicker of change, a flicker of hope. That flicker inspired them to attempt something new, to change, and to hope. That flicker from God illuminated them and illuminates us. That flicker of light became an Epiphany we celebrate to this day.
“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, Magi came from the East to Jerusalem.” (2:1) Their arrival threw the whole city into turmoil. “Who are these people? What star are they talking about? What King?” The Magi’s questions frightened King Herod “and all Jerusalem with him”, which is a horrible critique of the religious establishment. As heinous as King Herod was, he at least kept the 1% happy. And even though he was a puppet king kept in power by Rome, he at least was a Jewish king (though not descended from David). As long as he paid lip service to the faithful, nobody wanted to upset the status quo. Nobody with any power wants to hear from strangers that a new king had been born, especially because of some supposedly new star.
It is fascinating that in Matthew’s Christmas story, Herod is the one who first connects this new baby with the idea of the Messiah. Herod is wicked but he is not stupid. He knows that anyone with a claim from King David’s line would be a great threat to him. So when the priests and scribes quote the prophet Micah about a ruler who is to come from Bethlehem (David’s hometown) who will “shepherd the people Israel”, Herod knows that this is a threat that cannot be ignored. A ruler who would shepherd the people; protecting them, caring for them, giving his life for them, this was not the kind of ruler Herod aspired to be and therefore he made it his aim to destroy this star-heralded rival.
It seems at first that the Magi have walked into a terrible trap, naively helping Herod find the child, but once they have the information they need about Bethlehem, they leave Herod and frightened Jerusalem behind. They don’t care about the city’s politics or the impact on Herod from what they had shared. They had spoken their truth and now they were focused on reaching the goal of their journey. “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and worshipped him (2:10-11a). The Magi were uninterested in Herod and the power structures of Jerusalem, they had no need to support the status quo. All they cared about was following the star to this child and honoring him with precious gifts.
The Magi, pagan astrologers, followed the flickers of God to Jesus, the Christ while the religious establishment sat in fear and denial. Let’s think about that for a moment. Those willing to try something new experience joy while those invested in the status quo experience dread.
We like having bright blazing stars to follow, to have no doubt about where to go and what to do. Our polarized society champions militant certainty but God does not always work that way. Sometimes God’s guidance is a flicker or a spark that becomes more clear the more we turn and focus on it. Our task is to be alert and aware of God in our midst; to pay attention to the world around us and to the sparks of God. When we are attuned to God we can see God all around us.
As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper may our hearts and minds be tuned to experience the epiphany of Emmanuel, God with us. May we be illuminated by the light of Christ which shines through any darkness and which empowers us to share God’s love with the world.
Let us pray,
Illuminating God, we thank you for the flickers of grace with which you lead us and encourage us. Give us the strength and perseverance to watch for you and work for you. In Jesus’ name Amen.