Are We Following the Star?
Once upon a time there was a star, a bright star, a one-of-a-kind star -- the Bethlehem star. Whether or not it was a star, a convergence of planets, or some other celestial occurrence, it was absolutely remarkable and unique. The light that shined -- for everyone to see -- heralded the birth of Jesus.
I wonder how many people saw the star. (We'll just call it a star.) Some may not have noticed it. Others may have seen it and just thought it was beautiful. We know that some saw it, understood its meaning, and decided to follow it. These were the Magi, the wise men. While religious traditions have made them three kings, there were probably many more than three, and they were most likely star-gazers of some sort, astrologers. We also know that at least one person (though more followed his lead later) found out what the star meant, and tried to destroy the Messiah, which the star announced. That was Herod.
Let's pause and ask ourselves: How would I have responded to the star? Would I have seen, searched for, and followed the star? Would I have understood its significance?
While we don't have the opportunity to respond to the Bethlehem star, we do have many opportunities to respond to the star that is in our lives -- the Christ, who lights our way. Jesus affirmed, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8:12 NRSV).
So we can ask ourselves now: How do I, or how would I like to, respond to the Christ-touch in my life? As we revisit the tale, let's join the wise men in valuing the Christ. Let's notice the qualities they express in their journey -- qualities which we can express. Our story reads:
In the time of King Herod … 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 they had heard the king [tell them to go to Bethlehem], 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. (Matt 2:2, 9, 10 NRSV)
How did the Magi respond to the star and its message? What qualities did they exemplify?
- They were aware. They were watching.
- They had done their homework and had studied the stars, the constellations, and their movements.
- They recognized what the convergence of light meant and understood its significance.
- Then they acted. This is huge!
- They made the incredible decision to follow the star.
- They left their country and traveled to Jerusalem to pay homage to a king born in a different land.
- They persevered. When they didn't find the newborn king immediately in Jerusalem, they sought after knowledge, asking people if they knew where the child was.
- While they were open to changing course, willing to be flexible, they were totally committed to finding and honoring the Christ.
- They valued the Christ. They gave gifts fit for a king to the young boy (he was probably two when they met him) who would enlighten the world.
- They listened to the angel message telling them not to report back to Herod, but to go home another way.
- They refused to endanger the life of the child who would exemplify the Christ.
Just as the star beckoned the wise men to follow it, so the Christ calls us. The Bethlehem star would have no meaning without the life of Jesus. If we truly wish to honor Jesus' life and message, then we have the responsibility, even the privilege, of following his example and fulfilling his expectations for us.
And what did Jesus expect of us? Jesus expected us to be lights in a dark world. We read in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus declared, "You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt 5:14, 16 NIV).
Eugene Peterson explains Jesus' command this way:
You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (The Message, Matt 5:14-16)
Jesus revealed God's true nature, which is Love. He explained our relationship to God as loving parent and child. When Jesus looked at people who were struggling with their concept of themselves and of God, he saw their real God-given natures.
Jesus let the light of Christ, Truth, shine so clearly that darkness -- ignorance of God, fear, lack, sin, sickness, and death -- simply could not exist. The result was healing -- transformation of character and/or body, and thus a new life, or a new concept of life. Jesus did what he told his disciples, including us, to do: "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt 10:8 KJV). What an opportunity we have to bless others with the transforming light of Christ by healing as Jesus healed!
It's easier to share this light when we realize we're not responsible for the light. We don't own the light, nor do we have to create it. All we have to do is recognize and "let" -- not make -- the light of Christ shine through us. We do this by focusing on what's true and good, seeing God's nature reflected in everyone.
And if we ever start to think that there's too much darkness, we can remember what we read in John: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it" (John 1:5 NLT). Herod couldn't kill the Christ … and neither could the cross.
So this Christmas and every day of our lives, let's cherish the Bethlehem star and the message it brought to the world. Let's be like the wise men and actively pursue the Christ. Let's rejoice that from celestial light to inner enlightenment, the Christ is still shining in our world and in our lives. Let it shine!