Excerpted from Cultivating Care for Creation, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year A from the North Carolina 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.
“. . . for we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage,” the travelers from the East said to King Herod.
A star at its rising led them to travel from far away—it beckoned them, and they remained transfixed on this star, until they arrived where they hoped they would find the Messiah, “the child who has been born king of the Jews.” The travelers were beckoned by a star, pulled by the hopes deep within their hearts of long-awaited Good News. These travelers saw the star and knew its meaning immediately because they had been waiting for it, depending on it, and wondering about it. To “pay him homage” emphasizes the respect these travelers already had for this child. These travelers, knowing what is holy, knew the child was from God. His birth drew them to come and worship.
They noticed the star because they were looking for it. The awareness and mindfulness when we are looking for something is far different than when we are not. Our posture in the world reflects what we are open to seeing and what we are trying not to notice.
Often we travel through the day in a slumped-posture, with our faces pointed down—often at our phones, computers, but sometimes to avoid eye-contact and connection with another person. We often live trying to avoid life. In this avoidance, we do not notice much, let alone Good News.
The travelers continued their trek until they found themselves where the star was directly over the child. Life for them would never be the same. The story goes, they were “overwhelmed with joy.” We would expect that after a long journey of anticipation; however, the Magi teach us one more thing about awareness and mindfulness. They teach us to be aware of our surroundings and also to be aware of what is happening with our own emotions and reactions. Identifying how we feel is an enormous insight into life. The travelers were so aware of what God is doing in the world that they noticed a star, found it, and felt within themselves immeasurable joy.
The beauty of Advent is that it teaches us each year that God is coming. In our longing we will be met with hope, peace, joy, and love. In our normal ways of thinking, often tired, maybe stressed, and sometimes afraid to look up—we may only see pain and worry. We may tell ourselves things about this world that further separate us from it. Undoubtedly, there is much pain in this world that could use a star in the night, but if we look for the sacred among us and tune our hearts to that, we can become people of hope who lift our eyes to the heavens.
This oft told tale is a crucial reminder to watch for the sacredness in this world. To be aware and mindful of what God is doing around us—to pursue it—and then join it. Our awareness might lead us on journeys that end in overwhelming joy.
Prayer: God of Love, thank you for giving us reminders—signs all around us—that you are present in our world. Thank you for stars in the night. Thank you for beckoning us, inviting us to join you. Help us in our journeys so that we are looking for you. And help us focus our awareness on what is of you. Amen.