Alright, it is time for true confessions. How many of you have erased any sign of Christmas in your house?! Trees gone, gifts put away, and decorations back in those Tupperware bins in the basement or attic. Except maybe there are still some Christmas lights on the house because, let’s be honest, it’s a lot of work to take them down!
I know that some of you pulled your decorations out as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey was cleaned up. As fast it goes up, we take it back down and we move on to the next thing. There is all this build up and then suddenly it’s over. We don’t linger very long in Christmas after the day itself passes.
And yet, our church calendar and lectionary readings do invite us to linger awhile. We try not to move on too quickly.
We spent several weeks preparing for Christmas, listening to the words of the prophets telling us that the Messiah would be born and letting us know what to look for. As we drew closer, Mary learned that she was carrying the Son of God and Joseph was reassured that everything would be okay if he would only stay with her. Jesus was born and the shepherds went to go see. And today the wise ones arrive, the day of Epiphany.
The season of Christmas liturgically wraps up with Epiphany, but now the season of unpacking the meaning and the significance of Christmas begins. Epiphany is this time when we begin exploring the implications of Christ’s birth.
Today’s Scripture reading begins with a “band of scholars” from the East. We know that they are not local to Jerusalem, having traveled there from a good distance. They are probably astrologers, seeing as they are paying close attention to the stars. This group would probably identify themselves as scientists who aren’t exactly religious. Yet something about this particular star in the sky has grabbed their attention and peaked their curiosity.
These scholars, probably men, were not Jewish. So what did they care about the Messiah, the newborn “King of the Jews”? We understand Mary and Joseph, Elisabeth and the angels, and even the shepherds considering Jesus was born in a barn. But these wise ones? Why are they the ones who arrive in Jerusalem, who bring troubling news to Herod’s ears, who suddenly want to worship an infant? They are quite possibly among the last people we expect to appear in the Christmas story.
Why the wise ones?
What was God up to?
God is always up to something. Look at the cast of characters we find in the story of Christmas – a teenage girl and her unsuspecting fiancé, a lowly group of shepherds, and a random bunch of astrologers. The unexpected. Perhaps the undeserving.
God has something to say and has intentionally chosen the most unlikely people to tell the world God’s good news. That God is with us. That the Messiah has been born – good news for all people, confirmed and spoken by a couple of nobody shepherds and a group of non-Jewish scholars.
With the help of a star.
This choice by God to lead the least likely among us to proclaim and embody the good news is not found only here. No, as Jesus grows into a young adult and begins his ministry, we experience the truth of who he is and what God is up to through a prodigal son and his forgiving father, through an unclean Samaritan woman, through tax collectors, and women at his empty tomb. The unexpected, the undeserving.
It all started with a single star.
A single star, draws the most unlikely people towards Jesus. Today it is a pair of teenage parents and shepherds and scholars. Later it will be outcasts and sinners, the sick and disabled. Jesus draws people toward himself, God’s reach grows bigger and bigger, towards those farther and farther from what we expect, from who we believe is deserving of God’s love and grace. By the light of a single star, we discover that through Jesus Christ no one is beyond God’s embrace. A single star brings about a renewed relationship between God and all people. All God’s people.
A single star, instills fear. That star fills Herod and others with terror, as this tiny infant becomes a threat to Herod’s power and rule. Soon he will have all the children killed, believing that this new King of the Jews is among them. And though he is not successful now, later he will play a part in Jesus’ death.
A single star shines with hope. It fills the wise ones with hope as they journey toward Jesus and finally arrive to worship him. Perhaps it filled the hearts of some in Jerusalem with hope, those who have longed for the Messiah or at least someone better than King Herod and the weight of Roman rule. This single star shines with the hope that only God can give, of a promise fulfilled in Christ’s birth – that the world will soon be what God intends.
A single star brings the best news the world has ever received. It is good news for all – for the curious, for the hopeful, for the unknowing, for the supposedly undeserving. This single star provides reassurance that there is love and space and grace for all of us in God.
You are all receiving a single star. When I tell you to turn it over, it will reveal a single word or phrase. A word or phrase for you, for this year. This single star will serve as a guide, as a light, as a sign for you. Keep it where you will see it. Reflect on it often. Pray and talk to God about what it means for you as life unfolds in the coming year. Consider how this star is leading you and others toward Christ.
Maybe your star brings good news and comfort. Perhaps fear or anxiety, questions even. A stream of hope. The promise of relationships. You might find throughout the year that your star leads you to experience all of these things and more, pointing you towards that various ways in which God is coming into your life.
Any sign of Christmas that adorned our homes may be packed away for now. But the significance of Christmas, the gift of Christ’s birth, and the implications of the depth of God’s love and the reach of God’s grace and the power of God’s presence with us… those things cannot be put away and ignored until the decorations resurface again. The good news of Christmas refuses to be irrelevant the rest of the year. And a single star will make sure of that. Amen.