Swirling Stars, Swirling Questions

magi2[1]

Matthew 2:1-12

The story begins with questions.

It is a story that seems quite familiar to us. Each year, the Magi make their way into our nativity scenes at Christmas. From boxes stretched out in all directions, they arrive from the “East.” We pose them carefully in the hopes of setting up a holy scene of serenity, or perhaps, we simply desire a decorative display for our houses. Apart from our pristine nativity scenes, however, we might forget that the story begins with swirling, controversial questions:

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.

These wise ones had come into the city of Jerusalem, and before they ever met with King Herod, it seems that they were asking these questions of everyone. “Where is this child? Where is this King of the Jews?” They stirred up these questions among the people of Jerusalem.

And then, King Herod heard about it.
The questions stirred up fear in the king.

The story says,

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened and all Jerusalem with him.

Soon after, Herod begins asking questions of his own. He calls together all the chief priests and scribes he can find, and he inquires of them where this Messiah is to be born. This is the pressing question before him. They tell 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.’

At these words, Herod must have been terrified. In the midst of his fear, he puts a plan into place. He decides to use these Magi as pawns.

Herod secretly calls for them.
It is time to do his own questioning.

Herod asks them questions about the star that they have observed. The Magi were likely astrologers, and Herod wanted to know about the astronomical sign that initiated their journey. And after gaining enough information, Herod then sends the Magi directly into Bethlehem to find the very child who is stirring up fear in his heart. He gives a false story to cover up his motives, saying that he wants to find the child and honor him. But along with the fear, Herod has hatred and violence in his heart. How dare this child question his own rule?

And so, they go. The Magi from the East will not be deterred by these false motives, but instead, they let their questions lead them on. They follow the astronomical sign, and they follow the questions of their hearts. Then miraculously, they find the child Jesus. They enter the house and see Mary, his mother, also. This is when they fall to their knees to honor him.

And from that place of honor, they give him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are odd gifts to give a child. . . and yet, they set the scene for the life story that will unfold.

Gold is a gift fitting for a king.
Frankincense is a gift fitting for a priest.
Myrrh is a gift fitting for one who will die,
one whose body will be anointed.

These gifts raise hints about how the story will unfold, and perhaps we find ourselves curious with questions. Alongside these questions, the scene gives way to exclamations of joy.

This child is a King,
This child is the Prince of Peace,
This child reigns over the entire cosmos, and
This child reigns within our very being.

This is the exclamation of this story.
It invites our own exclamations of joy and conviction.

Where is this child, the one who is born a King?
Where is this child, the one who is born the Prince of Peace?
Where is this child who reigns over this cosmos,
from whom and for whom all things have come into being?

These questions lead to responsive exclamations.

Large questions like these lead to an array of exclamations. For some, questions like these can become exclamations of threat.

This was certainly true for Herod. The Magi were warned in a dream not to return to him, so they left for their own country by another road. Meanwhile Herod, in a fit of rage and violence, begins to massacre all children in Bethlehem under the age of two in an attempt to stop the reign of the child who threatens him. Joseph, Jesus’ father, also warned in a dream, then flees with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The holy family lives there as refugees until Herod dies and is no longer a threat to their own lives.

That’s picture is quite different than our placid nativity scenes.

refugees[2]

For those in positions of power and privilege, and especially for those who rule over others in oppressive ways, the birth of Jesus is not particularly good news.[3] God’s holy presence in the world alongside us is not really good news at all, because

God will always uplift those who are downtrodden.
God will always balance uneven manifestations of power.
God will always make holy space for the oppressed, marginalized, and suffering.

For some, this will never be good news.

And yet, the questions emerge again and again.

Where is this child, the one who is born a King?
Where is this child, the one who is born the Prince of Peace?
Where is this child who reigns over this cosmos,
from whom and for whom all things have come into being?

These questions lead to responsive exclamations.

Large questions like these lead to an array of exclamations. For us, they don’t have to be exclamations of threat. For us, they can be questions of wonder and hope. These questions can guide our lives. Like that astronomical sign in the sky, these large questions can lead us to find the child who has been born. They can help us to follow him as he grows, as he serves the people of God with freedom, peace, justice, and love.

These questions can guide us to be found in him, for that is what he seeks. Jesus seeks to transform our lives so that we can live in the very same way, serving people with freedom, peace, justice and love.

If we let large questions guide us, we will soon discover that Jesus himself is the light among us. He is the one who guides the questions. He clears the pathway so that we may find him and be found in him.

He is God among us in human form.
He is infinitely with us.
He is the light leading the way.

He is with us. . .

He comes among us as one who is poor. He is born to a family in poverty, and he enters the world at a time when there is with no room at the inn. He is born into a world of violence, where his very being seems to threaten those in power. He lives as a refugee.

He walks alongside us.
He enters this world with us,
guiding us in our places of deepest heartache.

The light is among us because he is with us.

Where is this child, the one who is born a King?
Where is this child, the one who is born the Prince of Peace?
Where is this child who reigns over this cosmos,
from whom and for whom all things have come into being?

He is with us.

He is the light beside us, among us, beyond us, within us.
He is with us in our poverty,
He is with us in our heartbreak,
He is with us in our grief and losses,
He is with us in our cancer,
He is with us in our Alzheimer’s Disease,
He is with us in our experiences of bullying, racism, and discrimination,
He is with us in our immigration status,
He is with us in our violence,
He is with us in our abuse,
He is with us in all forms of suffering.

And no matter where we find ourselves and no matter how we feel, Jesus is leading the way toward hope, justice, wholeness, and peace.

So let us follow that light.
Let us find this one who seeks us.
Let us be found in him.
Amen.

Renee Roederer

This post was adapted from my recent sermon at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Taylor, MI.

[1] This depiction of the Magi was created by the artist Val Stokes. You can see this image and more work by Stokes here. 

[2] This is a Reuters image of Syrian Kurdish refugee and her child. It was taken after they crossed the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province on September 27, 2014. You can read the story that was published with the image here.

[3] The Epiphany C (Jan. 3, 2016) episode of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast influenced my thinking and language here.

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