“God meets us where we are, as we are, and speaks to us in words we can understand. Christ’s star shines differently in each of our lives, leading us to where God calls.
Vicar Jessica Christy
The Day of Epiphany
Text: Matthew 2:1-12
They watched the stars for their signs. They spoke the language of constellations and comets. They believed they could read the movements of the heavens to better understand events on this earth. We call them Wise Men, or Magi, but they were astrologers, and they came to Judea because they saw something unusual in the sky. These men bearing gifts for the newborn king were foreigners, with a foreign religion, and strange, foreign ideas about how to make sense of the world. The idea that there could be anything right or real about their astral predictions seems absurd, even blasphemous. We think astrology is silly now, but back then, it was evil to the people of Israel. The Bible repeatedly condemns those who claim to be able to discern God’s will by looking at the sky. The Magi weren’t just different; their difference was dangerous. And yet – they were looking at the stars, so God came to them through the stars. God had a plan for them, so God met them where they were, and spoke to them in a language they could understand. God called to Zechariah in the temple, to Mary in Nazareth, and to the Magi in a star chart.
This might sound unsettling, that God announced the birth of Christ through pagan divination, but it is an act that is full of promise for us. It says that God comes to us where we are, as we are. We don’t need to be more righteous, or more pious, or more learned, or more faithful to see Christ. We don’t need to be someone else in order to have a relationship with God. We only need to be ourselves, and Christ will find us, and speak to us in words that we can hear. We see this when Jesus explains the kingdom of God to peasants in Galilee using parables about things from their daily lives, teaching about eternity with seeds and sheep and weddings. We see this on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit allows everyone in the crowd to hear the good news being proclaimed in their native language. We see this when Paul stands on the Areopagus, and defends the Gospel to the leaders of Athens using the terms of Athenian philosophy. We see this in scripture itself, where the words of Jesus, who spoke Aramaic, are preserved in Greek, so the good news could spread like wildfire across the Greek-speaking world. And we see this with startling clarity when God speaks to a group of foreign astrologers through an unusual star.
And today, God speaks to each of us in our own lives, using the language of our own hearts. We know that we meet God in this place, in our worship and the sacraments, but the Spirit is not bound by these walls. The God who made all things is present in all things and calls out to us through all things. Parents can meet God in their children. Musicians can meet God in their music. Scientists can meet God in their research. Lovers of literature can meet God in poetry. We find God in art, and in nature, and in our vocations, and in our relationships with each other. The light of Christ can flash forth out of anything. And so, the star that rises in my life to lead me to Christ is not going to look the same as the star that God sends for you. We all encounter God in different places, and hear God’s call in different words. It can be disorienting to realize how many paths there are to God. We can get distracted by jealousy or judgment when we see that someone else’s star shines differently than our own. We can be suspicious and possessive, wanting God to speak in only the language we understand. But in the end, it is a joyful thing that God is revealed to us in so many ways, because it means that all of us are surrounded by signs of God’s love, no matter who we are or what we do. It means that no one is unworthy, no one is unreachable. It means that we all can see God at work in our lives, if only we are willing to look.
But God doesn’t do all the work for us. Even though God meets us where we are, wherever we are, God doesn’t let us stay there. When God gives the Magi a sign in the stars, they have to get up and travel down a long road to see the promised child. They leave the comfort of their homes with no confirmation, no advance word, just the inner certainty that something special has been revealed to them. They’re willing to be strangers in a strange land so that they can pay tribute to the new king themselves. And that experience transforms them. God defies the expectations that they had at the beginning of our journey. Because as it turns out, the Wise Men don’t read the stars quite right. They head in the right direction, but they take a wrong turn at the very end. They’re looking for a king, so instead of going to Bethlehem, where the star points, they go to the palace in Jerusalem. They think they’re seeing the star clearly, but their sight is distorted by their bias. They need to change if they are going to understand the message that God is really revealing to them.
But they do change, despite their initial mistake. When the star leads them to an ordinary house in an ordinary little town, they aren’t confused or dismayed. Matthew says that they are overwhelmed with joy. What God is doing in them is bigger than their preconceptions. The revelation that God is giving them is far better than anything they expected to see. Instead of clinging to their assumptions, they’re delighted to discover that they were wrong. These proud, wealthy men who once looked up at the sky and claimed mastery of its movements now fall to their knees before an unremarkable child. These are powerful people. Mere days before, they marched into a foreign city and announced their desire to see the newborn king, apparently with every expectation that their wishes would be obeyed, but now they gladly hand over their riches to a little boy who has no obvious glory or grandeur. Instead of a star, they now see Christ, the light to all nations, and their understanding of the world is forever changed. The king they first met is exposed as a fearful tyrant, and the real king is a poor boy with no crown but the crown they have seen for him in the heavens. God has touched their hearts and transformed their lives – and they return home by a different road.
Finding God in our lives is only the first step. It’s a big and wonderful step, but it’s just the beginning. If we’re going to know Christ, we can’t just observe his star from a distance then move on with our lives. Like the Magi, we have to respond. We have to be ready to learn and to change. The real question is not where we will see God, but if we will follow where God leads. Will we have the courage to leave the lives we know, so we can get up and go see the promised king? Will we have the faith to keep following the road, even when it doesn’t lead where we thought it would? Will we be able to set aside our expectations and our pride to kneel before the Christ child, and offer up our gifts in service? It’s a tall order, but the good news is that we don’t just get one chance at this. Christ is always being born in us and around us, and God is always inviting us to witness to his presence. His star will keep rising for us, again and again, until we at last come to Bethlehem, where we will lay down our treasures before Christ, and find ourselves overwhelmed with joy.