Saturday, January 5, 2013

Epiphany: What Star Are You Following?

Readings for this Sunday: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1–14; Ephesians 3: 1-12; Matthew 2: 1-12

What would it take to get you to drop everything, pack up your camel, and journey hundreds of miles?
Just to follow a star.
The Magi saw the star in the sky, and knew it meant a special king had been born.  They wanted to worship that king. So they dropped everything, packed up their camels and started on a journey of hundreds of miles, following a star.
They followed the star, across rivers, over hill, through desert.  They followed the star to Jerusalem, right up to the palace.
It made sense. Where else would you look for king- even a new born King- but in a palace? So they go, and ask Herod, “where is the newborn King of the Judeans?”
They had no way of knowing
-     they were in the wrong place,
-     asking the wrong person,
-     the wrong question.
They had followed a star to this point, but you see Herod followed a star too. And there was a big difference between the star the Magi followed and the star Herod had his eyes on.
Herod was King of Judea, by Roman decree – he had buttered up the right person, and greased the right palms. Herod’s claim to the throne was only secure as long as the Romans kept him there. He wasn’t from the line of David - he wasn’t even really Jewish.
And that made him very insecure – insecure to the point that he had already murdered one of his wives and a few sons, all because he thought they were trying to take his kingdom from him. He would do anything to keep his kingdom.
So when the Magi came to the palace, and said, “Where’s the new baby king? We followed his star and it brought us here.”  Herod was very, very afraid.
He wanted nothing to do with a star that led to a new King. Truth be told, he wasn’t all that interested in following a star that might lead to God. No, the star Herod followed didn’t shine over Bethlehem. The star Herod followed rose out of Rome and pointed to power and wealth and status and the necessary violence to preserve that power.
Herod would not follow this star the Magi followed, but he would follow the magi to rid himself of a possible rival and threat to his power.
Since it was in Herod’s best interest to find out where this rival new king was, he cooperated with the Magi.  Calling together the priests and the scribes, he asked them “What does the Scripture say?”
So, the chief priests and the scribes got together and did little research.
It wouldn’t have taken them very long to find the information Herod wanted. They knew the Magi were following a star that led to the Messiah. They themselves were looking, and hoping, and praying for the Messiah. They would have poured over the Scriptures many times, looking for clues that would tell them when God’s Messiah would finally come.
In fact, they probably didn’t have to even go look it up – where else could the Messiah be born but the city of David, in Bethlehem?
And so they tell Herod, “The Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem.”
And that’s the end of their part in the story.
It’s actually a little surprising. After all, the priests and scribes have just sent the Magi to the city of David to find the Messiah – Israel’s long awaited Messiah. You would’ve thought at least a couple of these religious folks would’ve gone with them.
Why didn’t they? The chief priests and scribes were following a star that provided them security and prestige and some power. They were guarding a tradition, preserving Jerusalem and the Temple, their religious practice, their identity as Israel, the chosen people of God.  They were cooperating with the Romans to ensure the safety of the people – at least until Messiah came to free them!
They followed a star of ritual and tradition, a star that said that Israel was God’s only beloved one, that God would send a conquering king to rid them of their oppressors.  The star they followed lead to Bethlehem and a conquering king, not a helpless infant.
They had no time to follow the Magi’s star, but waited to see if the ancient prophecy was true and God was bringing a Messiah to rid them of Roman rule. Besides, what could these people from the East, these Gentiles, possibly know about the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob?
The Magi left Jerusalem to follow the star.  Somehow these outsiders knew that if they followed the star they would encounter God. And they didn’t hesitate to drop everything, pack up the camels and follow.
And when the star stopped over the place where Jesus was, they rejoiced.  They gave gifts.  And these outsiders from far away were the first ones to kneel and worship Jesus, God-with-us.
It was worth dropping everything to follow the star.  It was worth it all to come into the presence of God.
What star do you follow?
I recently read a book called “Breakfast with Buddha.”  It’s about a guy who ends up taking a cross-country road trip with some sort of guru. They make various stops along the way and one of their stops is in South Bend Indiana at the campus of Notre Dame University. He is checked in to his hotel, looking around the room, and he ponders:
 It occurred to me in one of my many fruitless musings that if the term religion were defined more broadly—and I believed it should be—then the real religion of Notre Dame would be not Catholicism but football. After all, did they get a hundred thousand screaming fans for Mass on a Sacred Sabbath morn? Did the parishioners come early for the service and set up barbecues in the rectory parking lot? Return year after year to relive memories of a favorite sermon? Buy pennants, sweatshirts, and bumper stickers with the name of their church emblazoned on them?
And then, in the midst of this somewhat irreverent reverie, I wondered what my own religion might be. If I defined it that way, that broadly, as the primary focus of my thoughts and passions, what would it be? Family life, perhaps...
Or maybe I belonged to the First Church of Good Eating. Or work. Or sex. Or money. What occupied the very center of the stream of thoughts that ran through my gray matter night and day?[i]
Everyone has a star they follow. That thing that would make them drop everything, pack up their camels, and journey hundreds of miles to find it.
The newborn King who the Magi worshipped would later put it this way “for where your treasure is your heart will be also.”[ii]  We usually hear this text when we talk about money and giving, but it also talks about something much bigger.
It talks about the star you follow.
It talks about where that star leads.
It talks about a star so enticing that you are willing to drop everything, pack up your camels, and journey hundreds of miles.
What star are you following?

[i] Merullo, Roland (2008-08-26). Breakfast with Buddha (Kindle Locations 2137-2151). Workman Publishing. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Matthew 6:21


  1. Love this, Ramona. A clever and enticing play on words...

  2. Thanks, Ramona. This is a keeper.