Sermon: For a Guiding Star

January 6, 2019

Matthew 2:1-12

Early in the morning, my best friend is the snooze button on the alarm. I’m one of those people who sets the alarm an hour ahead of the time I actually have to be up and moving. I just prefer that more gradual transition from sleep to activity.

That sounds better than the reality, which is that some noise designed to wake me up goes off every nine minutes. Which makes me wonder if I should find a new best friend.

The magi had their own version of a snooze alarm. They were seeking not a morning, but the one we’ve called “the bright morning star.” To find it, they followed another star.

We don’t know much about who they were, as the only things we know of them are found in these twelve verses in Matthew, which doesn’t even tell us how many of them there were. Yes, they brought three gifts – but does that really mean there were three of them? It’s embarrassing, I’m sure, to journey hundreds of miles on camelback and discover you’ve brought the same gift as the guy on the camel next to you, but at that point there’s not much you can do about it.

One theory, and it’s an attractive one, is that they were Zoroastrians. Niveen Sarras notes that the prophet Zoroaster bears a striking resemblance to Jesus. “Zoroastrians believe that he was miraculously conceived in the womb of a 15-year-old Persian virgin. 2 Like Jesus, Zoroaster started his ministry at age of 30 after he defeated all Satan’s temptations. 3 He predicts that ‘other virgins would conceive additional divinely appointed prophets as history unfolded.’ 4 Zoroastrian priests believe that they could foretell these miraculous births by reading the stars. 5 Like the Jews, Zoroastrian priests were anticipating the birth of the true Savior.”

Zoroastrians today see themselves in the magi. The Rev. Jes Kast shared this week: “A Zoroastrian man once approached me on the Staten Island Ferry. He asked what religion I am. Christian. He replied, ‘Ah, my sister! I am your brother a Zoroastrian. It was my people who first made the pilgrimage to Jesus. We continue to believe the star is guiding us.’”

The star is guiding us…

But where?

Jerusalem, they thought, because that was the obvious place to find a person born to rule. Where else do you look but in a palace? It was the wrong place in many senses. Jesus was not there, of course, and in conferring with Herod they also put the newborn Messiah in grave danger. Herod would search for the child as a rival, not a Savior; he would seek him to eliminate him, not to worship him.

The magi had to be led again, by this same miraculous star, to find the right city, and the right child.

Oh, for a guiding star.

To guide us… where?

God doesn’t trouble to lead us in expected directions. Which makes sense, when you think about it. If the way is well traveled and well-marked, why put up a lot more signs? This, incidentally, was the theory of putting up street signs in the Boston area when I attended seminary there thirty years ago. When a side street intersected a major thoroughfare, they’d put up one sign, the one identifying the small street, the side street. Everybody, they believed, knew what the big street was.

And that was true after you’d lived there for a few months. As a newcomer and in the days before GPS, I got lost a lot.

I could have used a guiding star.

The star brought the magi to Jesus, but it also led them away from Herod. They didn’t keep their word to the king, they didn’t return to tell him where the child was. As Serene Jones wrote this week, “Civil disobedience lies at the heart of the Epiphany story: The magi receive an unjust order from a vindictive tyrant. Instead, they defy him. May we do likewise.”

They had a guiding dream as well as a guiding star.

In a few moments we will witness the installation of our church leaders for 2019. We have a new moderator, Bob Smith, and a new Secretary, Gloria Kobayashi (who happens to also be the immediate past moderator). We have new members and returning members on our Boards and Church Council.

What we need to pray for is a guiding star, for them as well as for us.

I don’t know what and where our star will guide this church this year. We might not need a big bright one. It might be the case that we’re called to the broad thoroughfares of ministry, the well-marked work, the familiar acts of faith.

But it might also be the case that our star will blaze brightly, leading us into the trackless spaces, the ones that aren’t marked because nobody’s given a name to it yet. These are troubling times in our nation. These are fragile times for many in the world. Last year we found ourselves responding to a volcanic eruption and to a major hurricane in our own back yard. We’ll be helping those neighbors for some time hence, as recoveries take longer than just a few months.

We may also find ourselves, like the magi, summoned to resist the powers of evil, and to provide the means by which good can survive.

Karoline Lewis writes: “As much as I want to cast the Wise Men as just innocent and uninformed responders, they are so much more. They are resisters. They insist that their witness testifies to a truth that will challenge power. That will defy authority. All because they believe in their own experience, their own encounter, their own epiphany. They get that there just might be more to the story than what they have been told. And therein lies the heart of our Christian faith.” She continues: “Following a star is never a blind endeavor. The story of these astrologists from the east reminds us that even something as simple as a star in the sky might lead us into places of risk, spaces of courage, and directions that demand trusting hearts. Let’s follow their lead.”

I’ll close with this poem/prayer about following a star:

Twinkle, twinkle…
Where’s my star, O God?
Where the heavenly beacon
guiding me across my unmapped life
to wonders and to glories?
Where, in all Your heavenly wonder,
is my star?

And perhaps God replies:

Look up, my child.
Look within. You can perceive it.
Seek and find.
My star for you has led you
to this place and time.
It has led you over sea and mountain.
Look, my child. Where your footsteps
run, that is where I led you.

And I reply:

Twinkle, twinkle…
Have I truly followed
this ephemeral guiding star
of Yours? Do not my footprints
wander more than stride?
And where, in all Your wonder,
is the Christ to worship?

And perhaps God laughs:

You wandered? Does that mean
you did not follow the guiding star?
The magi, after all,
first went to the wrong city.
Yet truly you, as they,
seek first awry. For you will find
the Christ is always with you:
always with you in your heart.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

The poem matches in both! And the quotes! Otherwise…

The image is “The Journey of the Three Kings” (1825) by
Leopold Kupelwieser. Diocese de Rouen, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on January 6, 2019

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