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Star Light, Star Bright

Jarrett McLaughlin
“Star Light, Star Bright”
January 3, 2021
Matthew 2:1-12

Text:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”   

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

    who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’” 

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”   

When they had heard the king, 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.  When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. 

Sermon:

So did you manage to see it a couple weeks back?  If you missed it, I don’t blame you.  The days leading up to Christmas can be particularly hectic, but did you step outside to see what all the fuss was about?  It’s quite the cosmic phenomenon and it only happens once every 800 years – but did you see Saturn and Jupiter doing a dosey-do just above the horizon.

By now I am sure you are aware of the speculation that this might very well explain the appearance of a bright star in the Christmas story.  Personally, I don’t spend too much time trying to explain what is in the Bible.  Instead, I prefer to just receive it as part of the story and ask what does it communicate for our life of faith?

Well, I went out once to find it but was a tad early.  I went out about 30 minutes later and the neighbors had found the proper spot – high on a hill caddy-corner from our house you could turn and see it just above our roofline.  From where we stood, it was clearly resting just on top of our home, but I can assure you there was nothing particularly holy happening in our house – just the usual family of five on month nine of quarantine.  Nothing holy about that AT ALL!

I will say that it was particularly bright.

But…it also wasn’t so dramatic that you couldn’t miss it.  In fact, if you’re not in the habit of looking heavenward much, I bet it would be quite easy to miss it.

And even though I was explicitly looking for it, once spotted, I can’t say that it inspired me to any particular movement or action.  I guess that’s why I would have made a lousy Magi.  Is anybody else a bit perplexed by these strange wanderers from the East?  I mean, I love star gazing and all, but I still find it amazing that a bright spot in the heavens would set that whole caravan in motion.

I think that is what sets the Magi apart.  They operate under the assumption that extraordinary events in the heavens above portend extraordinary events on the earth below.  It’s like that Star was something they could not un-see – and now they just had to go looking for what was so extraordinary down here in the dust.

You have to admire that kind of curiosity…you have to respect that kind of perseverance.

We know so little of their actual journey – except that they came from the east.
We know so little of their arrival – except that their first stop was to the Halls of Power where they met Herod and, unbeknownst to them, set off a full-scale panic with their innocent question “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”

The question would strike fear into heart of Herod.
Which means the question would send ripples of fear throughout all Jerusalem and Judea.
“King of the Jews?” Herod asked – “I am the King of the Jews.”

Power rarely steps aside willingly, and Herod is no exception.  He is all too happy to play the game of thrones.
In a few short verses he will issue orders so deplorably violent there will hardly be a family in all the land un-touched by his rampage.
Power will unleash all manner of evil if it means securing itself, if only for one more day.
That is King Herod to a T.

We often refer to these Magi as Kings as well – “We Three Kings of Orient Are…”
The fact of the matter is that we neither know them to be royal nor that there were only three of them…all of that is accumulated tradition.  But let’s live into this Three Kings detail a bit.

IF…If they had the power that comes with being royalty, these Magi certainly do not act like it.

If Power is single-mindedly devoted to its own preservation, these Magi are not playing the game right at all.  They should be scared liked Herod.  They should be maneuvering to isolate the problem, eliminate the threat, secure their own standing.  But they don’t.  In fact, the only thing they want to do is to find this child so they might offer him gifts, which is to say that they welcome whatever it is that he brings.  And even if their gifts are rather useless at a baby shower and these would be far more practical presents for the Holy Family – these Magi are behaving the complete opposite of Herod.  They have somehow flipped the pattern of Power on its head and that rarely ever happens.  I’d wager something like that happens at most once every 800 years or so.

I sometimes find it helpful to imagine these characters as if they are in a painting – specifically in this case I’m interested in the direction of their gaze.

I see King Herod with both eyes fixed firmly on the earth below – single-mindedly focused on what is right before him in the hear and now.  And that is probably what makes him a successful politician, but the Magi are different.  They have one eye on the earth below – searching for this child who is unlike any other.  But their other eye is fixed on the heavens above – searching the skies for marvelous signs, fully expecting that the realm of God just might actually inform our lives down here in the dust.

And wouldn’t you know it – this Christ child that they searched for across many a rugged mile; this child they worshipped and offered gifts to; this child that they welcomed…well, he would grow up and have a rather small following all things considered – nothing that would even make Power take notice.  But his followers would ask him one day– “Lord, teach us how to pray?”  And he would tell them

“Pray like this: Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”  Most of you know what comes next but think about the next lines for a moment “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  One eye on the earth below.  The other on the heavens above.  As if these two realms might speak to one another.  As if the realm of God just might actually shape who we are becoming – who we are willing to welcome, including all of the change that they might bring.

We know next to nothing about their actual journey but those Magi must have traveled many a hard mile.  You have to admire their curiosity…you have to respect their perseverance.
As for us – we’ve got a long way to go before we achieve “On earth as it is in heaven” status.
But there’s nothing saying we can’t take a baby step today.

Jarrett McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: jarrett@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext. 112

Bio:

Jarrett grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina where he had a pretty regular childhood – riding bikes around the neighborhood, muddling through school, trying to play various sports (emphasis on try), going through a phase of wearing lots of black in high school, and through it all, always finding a place of welcome in the Church. Jarrett became a “traitor” to his NC State traditioned family when he went to UNC-Chapel Hill for college.  Missing youth group terribly, Jarrett quickly discovered Presbyterian Campus Ministry where, in addition to exploring his call to ministry, he also met Meg. After college, Jarrett served as a youth minister for one year and then spent another year traveling, spending a great deal of time in Port-au-Prince, Haiti living in community with disabled children at Wings of Hope. He then went to Union-PSCE Seminary (now “Union Presbyterian Seminary”) and then went on to serve as an associate pastor for mission and young adult ministry at Village Presbyterian Church in Kansas City.  In June of 2013 Jarrett and Meg accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church. In July of 2013 they learned that they would be expecting. In August of 2013 they learned they would be expecting twins.  In September of 2013 they moved and told the Church all of this on their second Sunday. Jarrett is very much looking forward to NOT repeating that pattern as they accept the call to serve University Presbyterian Church. When not engaged at Church, Jarrett enjoys running and hiking.  He is also an obsessive music fan intent on keeping up with independent music of all kinds – reading blogs and record reviews, scoping out live shows and constantly spinning tunes in the car, home or office.  Most of all, Jarrett has a deep passion for the Church as a place of radical welcome and hospitality and tries his best every day to honor the ways he has experienced that in his own life as grace upon grace.