Readings from the Scriptures (CEB) Matthew 2:1-15
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route. 13 When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” 14 Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt.
At the End (and the Beginning) of the Year
At The End Of The Year — A Blessing by John O’Donohue
As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.
Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.
The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.
The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.
I had a good start to my sermon when I received this poem in my email box and had to start over. Starting over is something we’ve gotten good at: make plans, and then when new data presents itself, you start over.
I was drawn to the last two stanzas of this poem: the stark reminder of when beloved faces shone brighter… (and then blessing) this year for all we have learned. These words seemed harsh for all we’ve been through and all we’re still going through. As someone else has said we are day 732 of 2020, in the year that never ends.
What happens when you’re in the same pattern over and over?
What happens if it is one disappointment after another? One heartbreak after another?
One outbreak after another?
Like the magi – keep looking for the glimmers of light in amongst the darkness.
For I’m sure the magi had to start over. They’ve made plans about the Messiah, likely made trips to worship those newborn, and upon finding a child named Brian, they wrapped and rewrapped their gifts, returning home, defeated. When new data presented itself – when the stars showed something different, they would start all over again. The long journey aside, maybe that’s why they showed up 2-3 years late to the party. We might sneak them into our nativity scenes, but they really arrived much later – after the shepherds and sheep left, and the manger scene was no longer needed. Their pattern, over and over, delayed them: stars, travel, disappointment, repeat.
The magi were astrologers (not kings of foreign lands coming to worship) – they were charged to look to the heavens for answers. In the darkness, they discerned the work of the divine. In the night, they kept looking for the glimmers of light. Amy-Jill Levine, author of the book Light of the World, said in our recent Faith Study that
for Matthew, for people in the first-century, stars were not enormous balls of hydrogen gas. Stars back then were understood to mean the remains, the new bodies of righteous people, who shine like the stars in heaven. A star is a sentient being.
I’ve never thought of the star like that.
The star as a sentient being is new to me. The image of a guiding force that wants the best for us, that from a distance yearns for us to follow, that invites us upon a certain path, but cannot do more than point the way – all this seems like God, but it’s both less and more. Because I’ve never thought of the star as the righteous departed, leading the way. We often talk about those watching over us, but Levine’s particular focus is that the stories of the Magi and the Shepherds and Mary and Joseph are the culmination of the story of Israel, that this is exactly where the story of Adam and Eve, and Sarah and Abraham, and Moses, and the prophets end up. All these shine in the heavens above Israel pointing the way to Jesus.
Who are the righteous watching over you – shining like the stars in heaven?
And where are you being led?
Light from beyond ourselves watches over us to lead us forward. It is the righteous that are pointing the way, enlightening gifts of righteousness and compassion, as the path upon which we walk. And when like the magi arriving at the wrong manger scene, if compassion and hope are tossed aside, you start over. Find someone else that needs your love and adoration. Reassess and be sure that you’re offering your love for the right reasons. Start over, again and again, for this gift of love is greater than gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
For it is the inner light of the magi – the inner hope of the magi – that shone as bright as the star that they were following. For the magi shone with light from beyond themselves. They were convinced that they were right. And that belief fuelled the light that burned within them.
I trust that the light beyond ourselves shows that compassion and love are the only way out of this pandemic. We may be feeling “burned out” like the light within us has gone dim, or gone out, but the promise of God is still in our midst. We are still called to love, maybe moreso when times are tough. God tends the light within us, while the righteous examples of light and life, lead us from above. Together, these lights enable us to start over, again and again. Together, these lights shine to remind us in difficult times that we are not alone. For in the darkness, we can become dazzled with all that is still shining.
For eventually the magi would find the child, even if it took multiple years. And we believe that there’s an end to these times, even if it takes multiple years. For we are closer than ever before, if you look back to March 2020. It’s difficult to notice the distance you’ve travelled when you’re in the midst of it. Instead, paying attention to the light, we like the magi can [bless] each year for what [we] have learned, and not pretend that it’s 732 days of the same existence over and over. Instead, in a quiet way…we are nearer to [our] invisible destination. We are closer than ever before. For the light leads us, from within and above.
I pray, that your eyes might sparkle with hope as we face the end of one year, and the beginning of another. Amen