The Reason I Follow this Star
For some people, Christmas begins on November 1. Others are purists and believe that you can’t decorate until after Thanksgiving. Regardless, most people skip over Advent and celebrate Christmas for all of December. And then some of you, I expect, are the type to pull down your Christmas decorations as early as you can. December 26 is your day! Others of you very likely
save that task for New Years’ Day. Some of you (myself included) still haven’t faced the task of un-decorating and maybe you won’t until you feel good and ready. But, despite the speed at which we decorate or undecorate, the reality is this: in the Christian year, the season of Christmas is 12 days long, beginning on December 25 and ending just 2 days ago on January 6. That day is called Epiphany, and it is the day we remember the Epiphany, or appearing or revealing of Jesus Christ to the Magi. And it is the day we are celebrating here in worship today.
Whether your home is feeling barren now that it is devoid of Christmas décor or if your stockings will hang until February, many people experience a certain gloominess after the holidays pass. Perhaps, with John Lennon, you’re now asking “So this is Christmas, and what have we done? Another year older, a new one just begun.” Jesus was born. We lit the Christ candle. Now what? Hear these words from W.H. Auden’s “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio” published in 1942.
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes – Some have got broken – and carrying them up to the attic. The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt, And the children got ready for school. There are enough Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week – Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot, Stayed up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully – To love all of our relatives, and in general Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed To do more than entertain it as an agreeable Possibility, once again we have sent Him away, Begging though to remain His disobedient servant, The promising child who cannot keep His word for long. The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory, And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are, Back in the moderate Aristotelian city Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience, And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it. It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen The Child, however dimly, however incredulously, The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
The post-Christmas slump is nothing new, you see. Confronted with the transformative idea of a babe in the straw, we tend to retreat into our twinkle lights, Christmas cookies, and then cleaning up after. And there’s honestly nothing wrong with that. But our scripture today invites us to slow down and savor just a little bit more of the Christmas spirit, just a little more of the mystery before we pack it all away. We’re here in this particular part of the story because of a star. A star that in Auden’s work explains “I am the star most dreaded by the wise, For they are drawn against their will to me.” You see, what the poet knew is that following God’s Spirit, God’s light, will very likely complicate your life.
This star draws the Magi, the Wise Men from the east. We don’t really have any way to know who or what they were or where they came from. We don’t even know how many of them there were- we say three because they brought three gifts. Regardless, these philosopher-priest-astrologers follow a star and stumble upon King Herod whom they come to realize has nefarious purposes in wanting their information about the baby.
Nearly silent in scripture, in Auden’s poem, we hear from the Magi. We hear their reasons for following the star. Reasons, I believe, that may compel us to follow, to watch for God’s light, to listen and wait for the Holy Spirit as well.
To discover how to be truthful now Is the reason I follow this star. (first wiseman)
The truth is that Jesus and his family very quickly became political refugees. They, like 103 million people in our world today, were forced from their relative safety and comfort due to persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations.
The truth is that Herod was a politically savvy ruler who curried favor and advancement through nepotism, brutality, deception, and arrogance while ensuring his continued power by building roads, ports, and aqueducts that pleased the wealthy. The truth is that in so many very real ways, the slaughter of innocents happens all around us and we send thoughts and prayers and then go about our lives.
The truth is that all of us have been given the gift of God’s grace, God’s presence, and our own spiritual gifts. The truth is that God created and called you to a purpose, a ministry. The truth is that the world is ready and waiting for us.
To discover how to be living now Is the reason I follow this star. (second wiseman)
Living now is to know that because Jesus came in the flesh to know our sufferings, we are not alone. We have a merciful and faithful high priest and friend who is with us, even when we go down to the pit, when we go through the valley of the shadow of death.
Living now is to know that while suffering is human, there is hope to be found. That grief is the price of love, and that hope is a lifeline. There is a tiny, beautiful moment of joy that draws us forward in hope and in the fullness of life.
Living now is heeding the words of the carol we sang just days ago:
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!
Living now is to go on a ridiculous journey following a star or an angel’s song or a dream for crying out loud! Going because something is calling you, and you might finally be ready to listen and to learn. Living now is knowing that the moments of your life matter.
To discover how to be loving now Is the reason I follow this star. (third wiseman)
Loving now is knowing that we can become incarnate in the lives of others. We can show up, we can make, we can do, we can cry, and laugh. We can hold hands.
Loving now is listening to the cries of Rachel in Bethlehem and fighting to ensure that no parent ever mourns their child lost to injustice and violence and fear again. Loving now is to understand that like Mary we are being asked to bring Jesus here on earth right now. Loving now is knowing that love takes action, love is a choice, love is real and gritty.
Finally, the three magi say together:
“To discover how to be human now is the reason we follow this star.”
Being human now is to welcome babies into a world that is so brutal and messed up it doesn’t make sense. It is to feel all the pain and all the joy and to keep moving forward in faith and hope.
Being human now is to be vulnerable and raw. To be ridiculous and breakable. To be healing and to be open to life and learning and changing our minds
Being human now is going home by another road or making home in another place altogether.
And so, together as humans we gather together around this story one more time before we pack it up for the year. Drawn by a star and angel song, drawn by the notion that the Christmas story is neither one of sentimentality nor cynicism, but of transformative hope. As Auden said and continues to be true, “The time being is the most trying of all” or at least it seems so. The world is very, very broken. And yet God came to earth in the midst of a time that was just as violent, corrupt, impoverished, and savage.
And so we follow the star- we seek the baby who is the hope that can teach us to be human and show us the way to God. We follow the star because this work and prayer is the path to the fullness of life. And when we come at last to see Jesus- when we experience the Epiphany- the manifestation of God’s own self, what gifts will we offer him? The magi brought Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but what should we offer him?
Our selves, our whole selves. Our gifts, graces, time, energy, money- our whole selves. This is the only gift fit for the king.