Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
January 5, 2002
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
So much nonsense gets written about the Star of Bethlehem. I mean, every year we are treated to accounts of otherwise rational and intelligent people trying to figure out, to guess really, what sort of natural phenomenon it was. Was it a comet? Was it a supernova? Was it some sort of convergence of planets? When I hear these stories my only reaction is: Alas, literalism will never die. For these efforts are grounded in Biblical literalism. It says there was a star, so there must have at least been something like a star perceptible in the heavens at the time of Jesus birth that guided the Magi to the stable in Bethlehem. Well, maybe there was and maybe there wasnít. But do you see what this sort of literalism does? It takes all the magic, all of the wonder out of the story. For if all that happened was some natural phenomenon, what meaning does that have for us? None, really, beyond the ordinary meaning of natural phenomena generally. The effort to find out "what really happened" is grounded in a rationalistic, scientific mindset that leaves no room for the mysterious, or even for faith, and certainly leaves no room for the symbolic.
No, thatís not the way to look for meaning in the story of the star that guided the three sages from the East to the stable where Jesus was born. Let me suggest a better way, a way that, I think, makes that story a great deal more meaningful for us today than any hidebound literalism ever could. Rather than ask "what happened," letís ask "what is the story telling us?" Itís telling us, is it not, that with the birth of Jesus a great light came into the world. That light is so bright that it lights up the sky. It outshines all mere natural phenomena. It causes awe and wonder. It causes people to want to follow it. It is the light of Godís own presence among us. It is a light that draws to God in Jesus Christ even people who find that attraction most surprising.
That really is what the story is about. Who are the Magi after all? In Christian tradition they have become kings, but Matthew, who is the Evangelist who tells us this story, doesnít call them that. He doesnít even tell us there were three of them, but never mind. He calls them "magi," a Greek word that is the root of our word magic. He probably meant by it that they were astrologers from somewhere east of Judea, perhaps Syria or Mesopotamia. They are not Jews. They represent the wisdom of the Gentile world, a world that did not know the Jewish law or the Jewish God. Yet they are attracted to the light of Christ represented by the star. That light made them want to "pay homage" to Christ. Homage isnít a word we use much, but to pay homage means to show reverence, honor, or allegiance to a person. The light of Christ, this story tells us, is such that even people who know nothing about Him are moved, when they learn of him, to pledge their allegiance to Him, to honor him, to want to follow Him.
As Christians, we should find that light of Christ symbolized by the star especially powerful and attractive. Epiphany, that church day with the strange name the means an appearance or manifestation of God, reminds us what that light can mean for us. The light of Christ shines within us. It lights up our lives. It shines in our darkness bringing wisdom, truth, hope, peace, and joy. It warms our souls, making us better, more loving people. It shines over us, leading us to where God wants us to go. It shines out through us, bringing Godís love into the world, a world so often toiling in darkness and despair.
So letís not worry about what natural phenomenon led to the story of the star of Bethlehem. It doesnít matter. What matters is that at Epiphany we celebrate, as we do at Christmas, of which Epiphany is properly a part and the end, the coming of the light of Christ into the world. Letís not over analyze it. That way lies the danger of losing its real meaning and its power. As one of the lines of the Christmas carol "Angels From the Realms of Glory" says:
Sages leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions gleam afar.
Seek the great desire of nations,
Ye have seen his natal star.
We have seen his natal star. Today we celebrate that star, that light of Christ come into the world. So letís let is shine, shine in us, over us, and out of us. That way lies true wisdom. That way lies hope, peace, and joy. That way lies our way to God. Amen.