Sunday, January 01, 2012

Matthew 2:1-12 “We Follow a Star”

Last year Lisa picked up an advent book in the after Christmas sale. It told the story of a little bear that was following a star on a journey to Bethlehem. Each day there would be another adventure the bear had, another person or creature the bear met, another lesson the bear learned. The people and creatures the bear met were often following the star at their own pace and the little bear would sometimes journey with them for a way before their paths separated. And throughout the journey the bear got closer and closer to Bethlehem so that on Christmas Eve he finally got to his destination, not the star itself, but the thing it was pointing towards, Baby Jesus, lying in a manger.

It was fun reading the book with the kids this year, though sometimes we missed a night or two, we would make up for it another night by reading a couple stories instead of just one. But it was exciting to join the little bear and his friends on this journey as they sought Jesus together, and it is even more exciting to realize that we all are just like that little bear, seeking Jesus ourselves. Perhaps we don’t know that it is Jesus we seek, but he is the one the star points to, the fulfillment of all of our questions and the solution to all of our problems.

Let us open in prayer

I. Magi Journeying

When we look at the story of the Magi, we see the story of each of us as well. They were strange easterners who traveled long distances, sometimes we think of them as kings, other times we see them as exotic foreigners. So often we see them as someone different, someone other, someone set apart. When we look at the Christmas story we like to associate ourselves with the shepherds or even Mary and Joseph. The Magi are there to make the story a bit more exotic. And yet, in some ways, I think we’re more like them than anyone else in the story.

You see, the Magi were looking for something. They were on a journey to find something more than themselves. They were traveling foreign lands looking for a king.

Well, what does that have to do with me, Pastor? You may not have traveled long distances, you may not be in a foreign land, but we all have that longing to search for something more in us. We are all following stars and hoping they will lead us to something great. We just aren’t always sure what it is they are going to lead us to.

The Magi were magicians, they were court advisors, they were seers. They were the prophets and advisors of their day, they were the cabinet members, the scholars. In the Old Testament we see a few of God’s people who went on to be Magi in their own right, The most obvious of these examples are Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon. They stood out from the other Magi around them because they didn’t rely on tricks or the stars or smooth talking to sus out the truth, rather they went to God.

But the Magi in our story weren’t necessarily God fearers. Rather, they were studiers of the sky and they saw a great omen in the sky. A star appeared in the east that told them that a great king had been born. And like the man who finds a treasure in a field and sells everything so that he can buy that field and have that treasure, they head out on a great journey to meet this king and welcome him to the world.

Basically, they saw something great in the sky and they felt that they needed to be a part of it. So they headed out on a great journey that took them to Jerusalem. Now it’s interesting to note that the star itself didn’t get them to Jesus, to Bethlehem. They showed up in Jerusalem and went to the palace to see where the king might be. In Jerusalem they were introduced to scripture which told them that the king would be born in Bethlehem. Then they traveled there, and only then saw the star again which confirmed for them the truth. For the Magi, the star wasn’t enough. It got them started on the journey, but it didn’t get them to the destination. I’m convinced that this is an important distinction to make because we are all on journeys, we are all following stars, and we cannot expect that the stars will always lead us to the right answer right away. Sometimes we need to go as far as we can with the stars, but then turn to scripture, then turn to prayer, then turn to God and go the rest of the way.

II. Our Journey

What are the things that we follow? What are the journeys that we begin as we search for something more? What are the stars that we find ourselves chasing after? If we’re really honest with ourselves, we will admit that we do follow stars, and not all of them are healthy. We look for things to give us fulfillment. We look for something to give us meaning. And we put our energy into certain things because we think they’re going to take us someplace special. I’ve talked before about my sister’s wanderlust. She’s constantly on the move, looking for another adventure to go on, another place to travel to. There’s something that she gets from traveling, there’s meaning she finds in going places. But we all have different things that give us that same kind of meaning, that same kind of purpose. Or perhaps it is something that we’re chasing that we hope will give us that meaning, that purpose. I have a pastor friend who’s writing a book. He is somewhat unhappy with what’s going on at his church and the situation he’s in in ministry, but he’s excited about this book he’s writing and is throwing all his energy into it. For my dad, it was always heading down to the garage to work on his classic car. For my mom, it has been collecting Elmos. I believe the whole dating scene is a bit of a star, trying to find the perfect person to complete you and make you happy. For others it is keeping up appearances, making sure that they look good to the people around them. I know others who have addictions, things that are very unhealthy and that rule over them. I know for me, since the kids have been born, I find myself again and again trying to find good and fun things for them, trying to be an awesome dad.

We are all following stars, trying to find purpose, trying to find meaning. Some of the stars lead us in the right direction, others pull us into dangerous places. But when our stars come in contact with God, they will bring us to a place where we can find true fulfillment, true purpose, true peace. You see, the fact that we are following stars in normal. It is not bad in and of itself. Some of the stars we may chase may be bad for us or those around us, and when we get to the point where we obsess about anything too much, it can become dangerous. But following stars isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. These Magi were following the star of astrology that led them to seek after a great king. And they ended up in front of the one true king, Jesus.

You see, I believe that if we are truly seeking after truth, if we are truly seeking after knowledge, if we are truly seeking after what is right, God will find a way to make sure we find it. The star didn’t lead the Magi to Jesus, though that’s the way we like to hear the story. The star got them so far, got them in the general area, and then they turned to the Word of God and found their way the rest of the way there. This is a hopeful message for us, it is a hopeful message for those we know who are lost, who don’t know Jesus. Now I need to be clear, I’m not suggesting that all roads lead to heaven. Far from it. But I am saying that God rewards true seeking after the truth. God put the Magi on the right path and brought them in contact with the true word so they could find Jesus. When we meet someone journeying on the path for truth, when we find someone following a star hoping to find God at the other end, perhaps we can help put them on the right path as well. This doesn’t happen necessarily by arguing with them or trying to explain to them every way they are wrong. Rather, we can encourage their curiosity about truth. We can celebrate their open minds to the wonders of the universe. And we can share with them where the star has led us. We were led to a town on the other side of the world, a little town called Bethlehem where we found a young boy named Jesus. He would grow up to be a great teacher, an amazing healer, a man of wisdom and truth, a man who would sacrifice himself for the world so that all who believe in him might know eternal life and the heavenly peace that passes all human understanding.

The stars we follow may be distractions, they may be false hopes, they may be things that are leading us in circles. But eventually they will intersect with God in some way. The question is how we’re going to respond when they do. The true king is born, and he wants to be born in us as well. Let’s be sure that we don’t miss him and that we find ourselves seeking him ourselves. Amen.

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