Biblical Text: Matt: 2:1-12
Trouble in the World
Where we end up so often is just a function of where we start. Being born in the United States, at least materially, has long been winning the lottery of starting positions. Today, being born with two parents in an intact marriage is the best predictor, without a second factor even in the running, for success (defined materially) in life. The same thing happens intellectually. If you tell me a couple of your pre-suppositions, I can probably guess what you position would be on the scare-quote “issues”. In my experience the answer to the question: Is man fundamentally good or fundamentally flawed establishes the rest. And I’d like to say that that question does not have to be religious. Immanuel Kant would talk of the crooked timber of humanity and his contemporary enlightenment deists who helped found this country built in all kinds of checks and balances against our human foibles.
So what we end up with typically is an arms race to teach the again scare quotes “correct” starting point. Proverbs isn’t wrong, “train someone in the way, and they won’t depart from it”.
The problem with all the various cultural militias is that the entire process of teaching and formation begins with our reason and senses, and it is our work through and through.
Gospel in the World
The good news is that God doesn’t start with our work or our reason. God reveals himself. God makes himself known where we are at.
Where were the magi? Probably in Persia studying star charts and making astrological predictions for the court wealthy. Why did they head off? Probably because they saw the chance to get in on the ground floor of a great king. There stars told them to go. Not the most promising starting point.
And the first place they go is to Jerusalem. The most likely place for the new king is the home of the old king. But they probably realized that this was going sideways when Herod didn’t bring out his heir. Herod calls out everybody who should know – not by an astrological sign, but the Jewish starting point of the law – and send them on their way to find “the new king”.
And here is the Epiphany. They’ve been sent to Bethlehem, but Jesus is probably back in Nazareth. A place where nobody would look for “the King of the Jews”.
But Matthew tells us to look, “behold”…something important follows…”behold, the star went before them until it came to rest over the place the child was…when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy…”
This is not an ordinary star. And you’ve heard all the naturalistic explanations. But this isn’t something natural, this is revelation. This is God coming down and revealing himself. We can’t find our way to God, but God reveals himself…God comes to where we are. Even if that is stuck between astrological star charts and a murderous king. Peter describes Jesus as the bright morning star. He talks of the “morning star rising in your hearts.” And that morning star confirming the prophetic word which is a lamp shining in a dark place.
The magi, completely without the Word, were given a star, an angel to guide them to the child. We, as Peter says, have the prophetic Word. We have the morning star rising in our hearts. We have Christ come to abide with us.
And when guided by the morning star – the revelation of Jesus Christ – all the natural certainties go out the window. Because God delights in making a new thing and sending us back to our own countries to be lights in the midst of the nations. Amen.