Excerpted from How Will We Welcome the Prince of Peace? An Advent Guide for Lectionary Year A from the NC Council of Churches.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘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 my people Israel.'” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 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 paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Matthew 2:1-12 ____________________________________________________________________________________
The story of the Magi is included in many of the plays, iconography, and storytelling that happens during the Advent and Christmas seasons. We are familiar with the components of that story, a baby, three magi, three gifts, a power-hungry ruler, angels, and a star because we see them year after year. The season of Christmas with the manger scenes and the Magi story in the annual Christmas play, the tinsel and glitter, the presents and parties are the outer trappings of a season that ends for many of us not long after December 25. There may be those of us who hold on to the outer trappings of the season a little longer and wait for the start of the New Year to put away our decorations, deliver the last of our cards and presents, put away our Christmas trees, and recount the “Christmas Story.” Then there are those of us who wait until Epiphany Sunday, the traditional liturgical Sunday that remembers the gifts of the Magi being brought to the baby, Jesus.
Despite having heard this story over and over, this year, I am captivated by the star. The Magi saw a star that they took to be a sign and they followed it, as surely as astronomers today track the patterns of the constellations that give signs of the different seasons and times of the year. Three/four/five Magi followed a star that took them away from their home, away from familiar territory to show their respect and reverence for a king. I wonder what they expected to find. When they did find him, regardless of who they expected to find, they were “overwhelmed with joy.”
The Northern Star was thought to have been a fixed star for many years and was the inspirational source for the phrase in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar,” I am constant as the Northern Star….” Now we know that the Northern Star both moves and changes, but we still see it as a relatively constant fixed point to locate North. The Magi followed a star that led them to a king. Beneath the trappings of the season, maybe we too are looking for our fixed point. What if our fixed point becomes the life of a man who was dedicated to compassion, peace, love, and actively rejecting injustice in all its forms?
Maybe if his life becomes our Northern Star, our fixed point, our star that we follow we could pay homage with transformed and peaceful lives that seek to “love God and love our neighbor” in ways that, like the Magi, makes us walk in unfamiliar territory. Maybe then, the possibility of a world that can be changed for the better, a world where injustice does not have a place, a world where all the -isms are rejected by a peaceful people who are inspired by the life of the king that the Magi found by following a star will become inseparable from our life’s journey. Maybe then, we could be less afraid of our neighbors who worship differently than we do, who don’t look like us or circulate in our circles because we’re not afraid of the people that we love when they are no longer strangers.
This Epiphany draw your line in the sand, set your fixed point, and live into a fearless and peaceful life inspired by the birth of a king who said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”