“Joyful, We Adore Thee”
Matthew 2:1-12 (2:10) – January 8, 2023
I love my Christmas tree ornaments. I have many that are very special to me! Quite a number came from my mother, and hung for years on her Christmas tree. A few came from both of my grandmothers. My ornaments are special to me for where and when I got them.
One ornament I got a few years ago was made by my son Peter. He is skilled at the art of paper folding called origami; he folded this exquisite three-dimensional star. I think of this as my Epiphany star; it is very precious to me. I wonder whether the marvelous star the Magi followed was anything like this star? Bright, multi-colored, shiny from a long distance? The 2nd chapter of Matthew tells us about these Magi, or wise men from the East. They traveled a long way, following this bright and shining star to Jerusalem. These Magi asked King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
The wise men dearly want to find the child born King of the Jews! But, where are they going? They themselves are not sure! They follow the star towards Jerusalem, but that town is where their books and ancient writings leave them all puzzled. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”
We might think of three foreign kings, traveling around Palestine. But, this is most probably a misguided way of thinking. The whole mythology of “We Three Kings of Orient Are” embroidered the simple words found in Matthew chapter 2 into a fanciful tapestry involving three noble kings in rich robes, knocking at the door of the palace in Jerusalem.
They were not kings, but instead “magi” from Persia. Wise people who studied the stars. Plus, these Persian astronomers (or, astrologers, since they put a great deal of stock in the movements of the stars, planets and other heavenly bodies) included both men and women. There may have been women in the group who followed the special star to Palestine!
So, these wise men – or, wise people – were not quite sure where they were going. Simply that they were following a sign, a portent in the heavens. A special star that seemed to lead them onward, westward leading, still proceeding.
Are you – am I – sure of where we are going? We have a good deal more revelation from God, more information from the Bible to guide us. But, do we know where we are being led? What is our path? Where does the Christmas star direct each of us to go, today?
When the Magi arrived at the palace in Jerusalem, King Herod immediately asked the chief priests and Temple scribes to search the Scriptures and find some direction he could give to these foreign visitors. Herod “asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written.’”
I find it fascinating that the chief priests and scribes (who wer e also avidly studying the Scriptures themselves) did not “see” that special star. They did not “get” the message that this brilliant sign in the heavens was a particularly marvelous star. Whatever that brilliant star was had to be huge and visible from a long way away! But, only these foreigners saw something different in the sky and decided to follow it!
The shining star that the Magi followed is surely a sign from God showing the birth of the Messiah, the newborn King of the Jews, as the Magi said.
We know one often-repeated symbol for God is light. Since we can’t make a picture of light, we use things that make light like a star, sun, candle, or lamp. I have a lovely origami star ornament here. We can reflect upon the many reasons, the many signs of light that are talked about in the Bible, including the Star of wonder, Star of light. Just think of the Advent wreath and Christmas candle lighting services and note that we light those candles to remind ourselves that God the light is with us. What’s more, think of the candles here on the chancel. We light the candles every week to remind us of the Light of the World, the Light that shines in the darkness, the magnificent Star in the sky the Magi followed.
Turning back to our Scripture reading, “After the Magi had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
The wise people who followed that star found what they were searching for. And, they worshiped, and were overjoyed. Are you – am I – sure of where we are going? Are we following that star, too? We have a good deal more revelation from God, more information to guide us. But, do we know where we are being led? What is our path? What does the Christmas star direct each of us to do, today?
I ask all of us to consider these words from Howard Thurman, progressive theologian who wrote this poem: The Work of Christmas.
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart.
Let us take these words to heart, and go and do them. Alleluia, amen.