Saturday, January 2, 2016

Matthew 2:1-12
Following the Star

In our world, there are all kinds of stars. There are Star Wars … movie stars … and music stars. There are lots of stars in the skies …
But this morning, the only star that matters is the one the Magi followed. Most likely coming from Persia or Arabia these astrologers had noticed something remarkable in the skies and decided to check it out. The star appeared to point to something important – and in their experience this meant the birth of a special new king.
If we assume they began following the star on the night Jesus was born, and the child was less than two years old when the Magi arrived in Bethlehem, I think it took them about 18 months of travel to reach him. By this time, Joseph is hard at work in his carpentry shop in Bethlehem. The Magi find the family at home, not at the stable.
Can you imagine what a stir these travelers would have caused in Bethlehem, assuming the town is a place of 300-400 people? Probably accustomed to seeing wealthy and royal travelers pass through, it would have been a wonder to them that these travelers actually stopped and looked around for a toddler. Even more amazing to learn they gave such high-value gifts to a little boy in Bethlehem.  
More than giving gifts, they bowed down to honor him. The Greek word means they prostrated themselves, lying flat on the ground before him. This is high honor – given only to royalty out of loyalty, or to a deity.
Matthew includes this story for several purposes – first to make it clear that Jesus is worthy of being honored as a king. Second, to make it clear that foreign dignitaries viewed him as a king and honored him accordingly. Third, to make it clear that Jesus came to earth for all people, including people of every class and place.
 The Magi traveled for months, following a star to a new kind of king. While they traveled in style, and it was quite an adventure for them, it was still a test of endurance and determination. After this lengthy journey, they spent a few moments – hours? with the family, and left. Warned of Herod’s evil intent they did not stop back at the palace on their way home. They followed the star to its end, and then went on to the next adventure.
Today, you and I follow an invisible star. We don’t need to trek thousands of miles to visit Bethlehem. We don’t need to pack up the camel, or even the car. We simply need to turn our hearts to follow Jesus as the star of our lives.
We follow with commitment – it’s a long, unending journey, a journey of a lifetime.
We follow to see where the star will lead us. The path will not be straight, and we will not always know where we are going or why we are going there. But we are called to follow, anyway.
We follow and give offerings of ourselves, our time, and our treasure. We are challenged to be generous, giving more than we believe we can afford, and following the lead of the Magi.
Some stories about people who have followed the star to Bethlehem and beyond:
… Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher have given $1 million dollars to two organizations to help Syrian refugee children. Baron Cohen and Fisher recognize that children are the biggest losers in a war. Especially in refugee camps, they often become ill because of poor sanitary conditions and a lack of vaccinations. The donation will provide for measles vaccinations and health care for hundreds of thousands of children.
… Near Tucson, Arizona, a secret Santa on a motorcycle used to travel around giving away $100 bills. After an accident, he can no longer ride, so he has delegated sheriff’s deputies to hand out the gifts to unsuspecting residents. This Santa hopes that others will get the idea and pass on the gifts they have to others.
… David McIntire noticed an old van pulled off the road, and he stopped to help. He was scared that he was putting himself into danger, but God kept telling him, shouting at him, to stop and help. The van was filled with boxes and household items because the man had lost his job and they were moving to another state to live with family.
Because the van was so full, there was no way to get to the spare, so McIntire put his spare on the van and had the family follow him to a tire store. The family was worried, because they had no extra money. McIntire assured them he was not interested in their money.
At the tire store, McIntire asked to speak to the manager, to ask him to put the charge on his bill, to not charge the family. The manager replied, “There is no charge for this family today.”
… A San Diego man visited Las Vegas regularly on business and noticed the same homeless man each time he visited. The businessman learned that the homeless man’s name was Paul. He also noticed that Paul read and reread the same book all the time. It’s because it’s the only book I own, Paul said. The businessman gave Paul his Kindle e-reader loaded with 300 books, plus the charger. They also worked out a way for new books to be loaded onto the Kindle.
It is simple, and we don’t need thousands of dollars to be generous. Our gift can be as simple as paying for the next person’s order at the drive through, or leaving a more generous tip on the table, or helping change a flat tire.
It’s as simple as noticing a homeless person and responding to a simple need – a desire to keep reading.
It is as simple as going out of our way, giving an extra hour or two to help someone in a bad spot.
It is as simple as being kind and respectful to all, honoring others as kings.  
The Magi followed a star to Bethlehem and found Jesus living with his family, not in a palace, but with regular people. Still, they honored him as a king, and gave him gifts worthy of royalty. They gave of their time, their talents, and their possessions to follow the star to Jesus.
Let’s us follow their example and follow Jesus, our star, in our daily lives.

Please pray with me. Jesus, you are our star. Guide us as your star guided the Magi. Lead us to be committed, kind, generous, and honoring all we encounter. Amen