Highly quoted author, speaker and consultant in Lutheran circles, Peter Steinke (writes a great book called Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times), has noted the root of the word “disaster”. Do you know what that word literally means?
It comes from the negative Latin “dis” (connoting not being able to do something, or a lack of something) and “aster” (star). So literally a disaster is when you have no star to follow. Fascinating, isn’t it?!
So ancient sailors, loosing their way at sea in the fog and the clouds — no star to follow. That’s a literal dis-aster.
Contrast that to this day’s text of the journey of the Magi. (btw, the text doesn’t say how many magi there were, just that there were 3 gifts, so artists have always assumed that 3 wise men went with those 3 gifts, but there could have been a hundred star-following wise women and men and their children all hiking through the sands from the East…) The point is, they had a star to follow, and they did.
Disaster is when we have no star to follow. Problem is, there are lots of stars in the sky. [pause]
Which star are you (at least) tempted to follow this new year? Is it the star of fame and glory? The rock star? The pop star? The sports stars or military stars? The political stars? The gold stars of school and accomplishments? Perhaps the shooting stars…like the housing/stock markets?
It’s hard to find the star of Bethlehem amid all the competing stars.
But here’s a clue: STOP LOOKING UP. [pause] For Christ always comes to us from underneath—from where you’d least expect—from the manger, from the shepherds, from the poor, from earthly stuff like wheat, grapes, and water. From broken and flawed people, hurting congregations, tragic situations, from simple every-day moments amid hectic schedules and frightening seasons. The magi, the text says, bowed down, to pay him homage. Bow down, look around on the floor of our world, to find the Christ child. Look to Bethlehem, that is, the most out-of-the-way, insignificant, underneath, little town. And that’s where the star, the light of Christ, stops and stays.
This is such a wonderful story. Because it has cosmic implications. This love and presence of Christ, that comes from below, has the ability to move the stars! To call people from all corners of the earth to gather, to praise, and then to go home by a different road: changed.
It means God’s love for you, calls you, as far off in a distant land as you might be—as downtrodden, or hopeless or sick or afraid as you might be. God’s light, albeit hard to see at times, God’s star rises in the east—the bright morning star—symbolic of hope and a new day—Christ Jesus’ star rises in the east and lights your way this new year of 2019, this new year of life that God has given us! (I see this as a year of healing here at BLC!)
The same star that world leaders saw, “Three Kings” as the songs and art pieces go, world leaders, the wealthy and powerful and wise—the same star that guided them, that came to them, and lit their path, comes to you and guides you…even today. That’s how dear you are to God. Not forgotten in some far-off land, but forgiven...and guided.
What a gift that Bethlehem star, that eastern star in the sky is for us! God’s love for you moves stars!
And so in response — not because we have to — but because we can’t help it: in response, we bring our gifts — our gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (What is that for you? What are our treasures?) And then, looking down, bowing down, kneeling down, we pay him homage. How can we do that with our lives? What can we bring? How can we serve and give and trust evermore in this Christ child?
For we need not dwell in dis-aster. For we have a star to follow! A star of love, a star of life, a star of hope, a star of healing, and a star of forgiveness.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, we too have been changed, by this star. So changed, so transformed that we are about to pray for people beyond just those we like and love. Prayers of intercession: have you noticed our ‘rubrics’ for the prayers of the people (p.14): “Having received the Word of God’s relentless grace and faithfulness, we can’t help but turn outward and pray for others. The love of Christ compels us.”) Our prayers — and not just our prayers: our words and actions, our ministries here at BLC — aren’t just focused inward, it’s not just about us and “our” building and “our” people and our success and our failures, right?! No, we can’t help — having received this relentless grace — we can’t help but reach outward to people and situations far from our own, even if those are people and situations right here in our neighborhood. We can’t but turn outward to people from far-away lands (like the magi in the story).
We even pray for our enemies. For the “Herods” of our government and our world. [pause] That’s how transformative this Christ light is!
We have been changed, by this star. So changed, so transformed that we have hope, in the midst of winter darkness. We have a way, and that way is Christ, and that way is Love, and that way reaches beyond borders and oceans.
Even when the world comes crashing down around us, God’s people, looking down, not gazing up, looking down at this earth, God’s people find the hurting, the oppressed, the sick and the lost, and there with them is Christ. “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” That’s how changed we are! [Rome, Isola Tiberina, Hospital Island]
We have been changed, by this star! So changed that we go home now by another road. So changed that we “gonna lay down our sword and shield, down by the riverside” as the old spiritual goes. We’re gonna “hammer our tanks and our guns into stethoscopes and gardening tools”...to modernize Isaiah’s vision of hope. We are so changed that now we practice peace (not just pray for it, we practice it). We’re not going back to Herod now, the road of violence is not our road. We’re going home by a different way.
For God has given us a star. We are free of dis-aster, sisters and brothers in Christ, for we have a star. And in that star is the hope, and the salvation, of this whole universe. And in that star is your freedom and everlasting life. For in this star is peace. TBTG. AMEN.