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Sometimes we hear a story or read a scripture and we are immediately drawn to a particular word or image or idea. Other times we’re confused, and have no idea what any of it means. And sometimes we’re aware of multiple layers of symbolism and meaning, and we’re torn about which thread to grab onto, which path to pursue, which of the many stars in the rich night sky might be calling us to follow.
So it is, I think, with the familiar and beloved story of the magi—especially this year.
Some of you might think that the most appropriate, the most prophetic, take would be to note the role of evil Herod in our story, the edgy interplay of political power and spiritual searching, the empire’s efforts to undermine all potential opposition. After all, Matthew takes great pains to portray Jesus as a king—a revolutionary king that, even from his cradle, threatens the established order.
From online comments and discussions, I gather that many of my colleagues will be focusing today on the epilogue to our story: the part where King Herod figures out that the magi will not be reporting back to him on the baby king’s whereabouts, and so he sets out to vanquish his competitor by killing all the infants in and around Bethlehem. The part where Joseph is warned in a dream that he, Mary, and Jesus need to run for their lives to Egypt and stay there until Herod has died.
You know, the part where some evil ruler is making refugees out of families, or separating refugee families, or issuing orders that end in the death of poor children. The part where an angel of God (or a gang, or a growling stomach) tells a parent to flee for the sake of a child. The part where, thank God, there was no border wall to prevent the holy family from taking refuge in Egypt.
I gather that many of my colleagues will encourage their listeners to connect the dots between then and now, to recognize that refugees stranded on our southern border have much in common with the refugee holy family, to see in children detained in cages, children stranded on the wrong side of a wall, children dying in the custody of Border Patrol agents the face of our savior Jesus. Some preachers, anticipating the criticism they will get for bringing politics and policy into the pulpit, note that Jesus’ very existence threatened the political powers, and that his ministry of love, healing, inclusion, and justice for the powerless only upped the ante and led to his execution. They will call on their churches and our government to offer hope and support, welcome and sanctuary to Central American families fleeing violence and poverty just as Egypt provided refuge to Jesus and his family.
There is nothing wrong with that message, of course. I agree with that message, of course.
And yet it is not the message you will hear from me this morning.
Not because it isn’t true, not because it isn’t important, not because far too many Christians ignore it altogether, but because I know you don’t. Because I know you already have taken it to heart and are living it out. I know many of you see Christ in our brother Lucio and his family.
And also because I’m pretty sure that approach wouldn’t take us anywhere new; it wouldn’t feed our souls or open our hearts to an encounter with the Holy. Because as sure as Jesus’ message of love and empowerment had clear political and economic implications, it was, at its heart, a spiritual message, a call to live into the Love that created us, to ground ourselves in that Love and let it heal us and transform us and inspire everything we do.
Because, if you are anything at all like me, you need something besides the ugly, hateful, never-ending name-calling and fear-mongering that passes for political discourse in this country. If you’re anything like me, you yearn not so much to connect the discouraging dots as to connect with what is real and true and life-giving. If you’re anything like me, your heart aches to know that you are more than a number, a consumer, a voter, a social media user—that you are beloved, that you are of and in God, that you are not alone, that there is mystery and meaning, hope and new life beyond what you can see and know, that you should follow the dream of your heart of hearts, that this wicked-crazy journey you are on actually is taking you someplace, and that once you give your heart over to the Holy, you will never be the same.
So. About that star.
About that longing.
About that heart hunger that keeps you searching and reaching and not-quite satisfied. About how we wish that we, too, had a bright light that would take us out of our darkness, out of our loneliness, out of our brokenness, out of our anger and weariness and dreariness, and lead us to a love that would save us.
About that feeling that something is missing in our lives, that if only we knew which way to go or what to do, if only we could be sure that the promise is real, that love is true, that life is sacred, that another world is possible, that our lives are laced with meaning, that every moment is filled with grace, that we really are enough, that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will. not. overcome. it.
Oh, to live in wonder. Oh, to shake off our fears and be led by the Light. Oh, to walk through this world hand in hand, step by awe-struck step.
Oh, to look and see that the Light is here—above, within, and all around. Oh, to follow it every day, not knowing where it will lead. Oh, for dear companions on the journey.
Oh, to find something—someone—very different than we were expecting and, at the same time, know we’ve come to the right place. To recognize the Holy in our midst, to embrace the redemption that is ever-available. To feel a joy we have never known. To know that our lives will never be the same. To trust that the world will never be the same.
Oh, to fall down on our knees in thanks and praise. Oh, to rise up changed and full of purpose, called and eager to follow. Oh, to discover that we, too, are shining, so charged are we with light and love.
So. About that star.