When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you …
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true. (from “Pinocchio”)
Humans have always been fascinated by the stars. From the earliest days we have noticed the movements of the heavens; we have used the stars to navigate; and yes, we have wished upon them. What makes them so attractive? Is it the twinkling? Is it the promise of something else “out there”? Is it just a projection of our wishes, our dreams, our wants?
Stars have been the focus of study for millennium. And stars have been guiding humans to destinations from time immemorial. So on this last gasp of the 12 days of Christmas, the eve of Epiphany, it is good to spend a little time on God’s Star—the star which led the Magi to the baby Jesus.
Epiphany is about God’s continuing revelation—our coming to know who God is. And God’s star reminds us that God sends us signs, even signs in the heavens. Everyone could have seen the Star which lit the way to the Christ child, but not everyone noticed. Maybe it became commonplace to see sights in the heavens. Maybe people were too busy with the important things in their lives to pay much attention. Maybe some thought they would eventually get around to hearing about its importance, at some later date. No matter, the star was there.
We hear about the star not from the people of Jerusalem, or from the shepherds out in the hillside, but from wise ones, foreigners, from the East who noted its rising and after much study, decided that it signified the birth of a new king of the Jews.
So God’s Star is a sign of the promise of God that “God is with Us.” It is a reminder that we need to have our eyes open for God winking in our world. God’s Star shines bright, but you need to note it in the heavens; you need to spend time discerning what it might mean; and you need to get on the road!
But there is a danger in our interaction with God via the star. Sometimes we want to take short-cuts. Sometimes we are not willing to follow faithfully to the end. Sometimes we think we have got the message and move on from there—at light-speed. This is what happened with the Magi, the wise ones from the East.
They had eyes to see—they observed the star rising, and concluded that it was a great portent—it foretold a wondrous event. They even figured out that it had to do with a baby, new life. They got on the road, and followed the star, all the way to close to Jerusalem. And this is where they made a terrible mistake.
For the star didn’t stop at Jerusalem. But they did. They assumed, since the star was in the vicinity, that the new king would be the son of Herod, the king of the Jews—and they went to pay homage there. This mistake was disastrous for male children born in and around the time of Jesus. For Herod was intent that there be no new king of the Jews.
The Star was a message. The Wise Ones recognized it and deciphered it correctly. But they jumped to a conclusion before the star was finished with its leading. They unwittingly caused much harm. They brought Herod, a bad actor, into the scene. His chief priests and scribes took a look at their own “stars,” found in the Scriptures, and realized that the prophecy was the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. And Herod deputized these foreign royalty to find this new king and bring him back word. And only by the intervention of a dream, does Jesus survive this malevolent con.
If the story of the star is a promise, it is also a warning. We should not try to rush God’s epiphany. We may not understand the full picture. We may not see the ensuing repercussions. We need to be cautious in our certainly that we know what the message of the star is.
I find it interesting that the star almost disappears in the bright lights of Jerusalem, in the fog of kings and courtiers and palace politics. But when they set their backs to Jerusalem, when they stop trying to circumvent the full journey, the star appears again. “They set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.”
And here is the third part of our star story. The star is a sign of the promise that “God is with us”. The star is a warning of our trying to engineer the journey God intends. And the star is only a spotlight for the end of our journey.
The star rose in the east. The star traveled, leading those who might see its brilliance and might intuit its meaning. But this journey is not a forever thing. God does intend to lead us to a destination. The star does know where it is going. “The place where the child was.”
Without the star the wise ones would never have known. Without the star the wise ones would never have set out. Without the star the wise ones would never have completed their quest—would never have been able to kneel at the feet of the new king—would never have presented the best they had to offer: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
In the end of the story, the star shines bright, but only as a pointer to the Christ child. We cannot get caught up in star-gazing, in star-meanings, even in star-following. For the star is not the end in itself—it is only the means to the end. The star was God’s way of getting us to the manger. It is, like the angel chorus on the hillside in Luke, the announcement of God’s new entrance into our world, the blaring of the good news of a king of kings and lord of lords, born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths.
And this is true of us, and our star-lit pathways as well. We need to be on the lookout for God’s signposts. We need to be willing to follow the journey and not get distracted by our guessing the ending. And we need always to remember this is about getting to that place. That place where the lost and the lone and the “least of these” reside. That place where we are asked to present the best we have. That place where God is found.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.