Guided by starlight

January 5, 2020 | Pastor Tim Dean

Today we celebrate the Epiphany—the 12th day of Christmas—and the arrival of the magi to the baby Jesus.

We don’t know much about these mysterious magi from the east. There were probably more than three – probably more like a big caravan of families including women and children. Traditionally, we call them “three kings” because of the three gifts mentioned – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The mysterious magi are led by a star to Jerusalem. They innocently ask the tyrant Herod to help them find the king of the Jews. Herod is afraid of losing his violent grip on power, so he sends them to look for the child in Bethlehem. The magi find the child and worship him in joy. And warned in a dream not to tell Herod, they go home by another road. That’s the last we hear of the magi in the story.

Like I said, we don’t know much about the magi. But they have a guide to lead the way. They follow a star.

The magi are likely astronomers or astrologers from Persia – what is now modern Iran. Sometimes the magi have been depicted carrying stargazing equipment, as well as their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It’s likely that their stargazing is a form of science, as well as religion. They are foreigners to Israel, being drawn on a quest for truth, and they end up bowing before the new king, Jesus.

They follow a star, but God is their guide

God draws these foreign-born scientists, wise, smart, wealthy outsiders, across a great amount of desert, to give them an epiphany, to show them who God is. God uses stars and dreams, the knowledge they would be familiar with. God also uses the ancient stories of Israel, such as 2 Samuel and Micah, to show them the location of Bethlehem.

The point is that the magi have a guide for their journey. God uses what they know to reveal something totally new.

Today’s festival of Epiphany, or revelation, or a-ha discoveries, is a time to celebrate and give thanks for God leading us on our journey of faith. We have a Guide, and we can trust this Guide to show, reveal, unveil God’s presence in our lives.

Our Christian understanding of faith says that God reveals God’s self through the biblical story and through the sacraments of baptism and communion. In the Living Word of the biblical story, Christ comes to us. Luther said that the biblical texts are the manger, but what we seek is the Christ in the manger.

So we don’t worship the bible. Rather, the bible is the means to show Christ, who is the One we worship.

The Bible reveals God’s steadfast love

He does this through the stories of creation, Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, the prophets, the psalms, and chiefly, in the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. The bible is the lens to help us hear and see Christ, and God’s unbreakable, liberating love for us and for all creation.

Dear friends, Epiphany gives us an invitation to begin again our journey with the Word—a guide we can trust to lead us to Jesus.

Yet God also provides other guides for our spiritual journey toward truth, justice, and grace.

Divine truth can be expressed through poetry, fiction, music, and movies. Divine truth can find us through relationships, shared experiences, and time in nature. Divine truth comes in silence as well as speech. Divine truth can be discovered through science, technological innovation, and engineering.

There are some voices in our world right now that would devalue science, or say that scientific discoveries are incompatible with spiritual discoveries. I completely disagree.

God guides magi-astronomers by the leading of a star, and by the neuroscience of dreams. God works through human knowledge to lead strangers to the infant Jesus. God meets human beings in the stuff and material of this good creation. That is what the magi discover: they worship the God who has become human, in the child of Mary. They discover incredible joy in the Creator who becomes a creature – the Word takes flesh!

The Magi represent all nations, all humanity, on the quest for truth

The wonderful news is that their quest is not random or wayward – but guided by the Holy One. The star guides them to worship the God of all the universe. The Light of God shines through different windows, lenses, and we perceive the clarity and presence of the Light in diverse ways. But the big Truth, the Capital T Truth, is that the Light shines on all of us, all humankind and creation.

This is what the star-gazing magi realize when they see the child, Jesus. They glimpse the light and life of the Creator of all.

Dear friends, we have started a new year, and a new decade, on a journey at night by the light of the stars.

In this new year, may we be open to new a-ha moments of starlight guiding our path. May we glimpse the truth of the Creator’s gifts of life for everyone. And may we be filled by the wondrous love of the Christ Child, and offer ourselves again in worship for his sake.