by Rev. Doug Gray
I am a fan of signs—they help us find our way, or warn us about something that’s coming up
But sometimes people get the signs wrong. (SOTP, Citizen Disposal)
Sometimes signs are confusing. (Crazy directions, all one way, no way)
Or people haven’t thought about what the sign says with what else is going
on around the sign. (slow shotgun, children speed bumps, car wreck)
Sometimes signs are just wacky. (Mosquito, 12.5 mph, Kungfu deer,
Sometimes signs tell the honest truth. (Cop behind sign, Bridge)
The trick sometimes is not just seeing the sign, but understanding what it means. (Drowning, Hell freezes)
Is there a sign that can guide us to a more wonder-filled Christmas? Yes!
The wisemen saw a star and they knew it meant a King of the Jews was going to be born. The star was in the sky for everyone to see, but only these magi, these priestly, kingly scholars understood it meant a king was going to be born and where. King Herod—whose political savvy won him a throne and kept it, and who commissioned amazing engineering feats like Caesarea Maritime with its floating concrete, Masada the impregnable fortress that would withstand a Roman siege, and of course the great Temple in Jerusalem—failed to understand the sign. Of all the world of the day, as far as we know, only these magi understood the star would show the way to a King. Every day, our lives are filled with signs—beauty all around us, people who love us, chances to make a difference—and how many do we recognize as coming from God? When we have dark times, we often are so self-focused or self-pitying that we fail to see signs God gives that we are not alone, that even there, light can break through—someone says a kind word, or helps us up when we have fallen. Another sign we are loved beyond ourselves. When we see the star in the sky, on top of a tree, on a Christmas card—will we understand the sign, that God is calling us?
The wisemen saw a star and they had the courage to follow that star. It’s really the only reason we even knew that they understood the sign. When the magi came to Jerusalem and asked where to find the King…did you notice everyone believed them? King Herod was troubled, disturbed—and all of Jerusalem with him. It’s a big deal! But only the magi went to Bethlehem. Why is that? Were they just too busy? Lives too full of distractions and plans, filled with court intrigue, trying to get ahead and make a buck. Yeah, maybe. But could it be those were just excuses? The idea of a Messiah, a King, is cool, but as Herod recognized, there’s only room for one King on the throne, and he was disturbed. Perhaps part of the reason we don’t find the wonder of Christmas isn’t so much that we are busy, but because we realize if Jesus is really God and was born a baby, it means we might have to rearrange our lives, priorities, values, even plans. Perhaps we will have to get off the throne of our lives, and let God be in charge. At Christmas, though, the star calls us to the hope of something more, but will we have the courage of the magi to follow the star to new life?
Finally, the wisemen saw a star and when they found Jesus, they bowed down and worshiped Him. These are people of substance and competence. They funded a multi-month expedition probably from somewhere around Iran. They were educated and scholarly, rocket scientists of their day. But in a modest Jewish home in Roman-occupied Palestine, these wisemen found a child and mother and something changed for them. Rob Renfroe asks, “Why did they worship? This newborn child had done nothing yet. He had no army, no subjects, no kingdom. He had not yet performed a miracle or spoken the words of a prophet. In fact, he had done nothing other than what any other newborn child would have done. And still they worshiped him. Why? The answer is that we do not worship God primarily for what God has done, but for who God is.” The something more for which they yearned, the something more that led them on an epic journey and energized them through hardship and calamity—it all came rushing in on them as they were in Jesus’ Presence, and they knew were with God. And they bowed down and worshiped.
The star is a sign of wonder, and wherever we see a star this Advent, it reminds us that Jesus is coming. The star calls us to not just see it—anyone can see a star—but to recognize it guides us to the One who has been born, King of the Jews—and who can be born in us again. The star calls us to not just see it—anyone can see a star—but to find its rays fill us with the courage to follow, even if it means letting go of worldly tradition to find God-inspired wonder. The star calls us to not just see it, but to let the wonder of baby Jesus catch us by surprise—the hope of something more, the sign of God with us. Like all good signs, the wonder of a star helps us anticipate what and who is just ahead—Jesus Christ.