I have a confession to make: it wasn’t until a few minutes ago, when I glanced at my calendar that I knew that tomorrow night we will have a full moon. Honestly, I would have made a lousy astronomer.
I have never bothered to pay attention to the phases of the moon. If you asked me when the Perseids appear with their meteoric magic, I would tell you I’d have to Google to find out. Where is Orion the Hunter tonight? Ursa Major, the big bear? Beats me.
Don’t get me wrong—I love darkness. But I shy away from knowing much about the heavens because, to be quite honest, the mystery and majesty of it all genuinely overpowers me.
Tipping my head back and peering into the night sky’s black dome, dotted with more stars than I could possibly count, is simply too great a contemplation for the likes of me.
See what I mean when I say I would have made a lousy astronomer? Which means I would have also made a pitiful Magi because tradition has it that they were all astronomers.
Even so, it’s clear that more than once in my life I have been a Magi. And you have been one, too, I’ll bet. Not because we are masters of the night sky, as these learned men were. And not because we are particularly wise, as Matthew tells us they were.
But like the Magi, we too have caught sight of new stars appearing out of nowhere and have dared, just as the Magi did, to follow these stars, even when we have had to navigate without the benefit of maps or flashlights.
A new star has sung its way into my awareness a time or two. And surely this has happened in your life, as well. Maybe it was when you took a class in college that so thoroughly captured your imagination and so completely stirred your spirit that you changed directions. Or perhaps you had a conversation in which something utterly unexpected awakened some new awareness. Maybe you woke in the middle of the night knowing something new and terribly important.
Your star could have just as well appeared as love, finding you minding your own business, a love that was so clearly meant for you that you happily packed up your camel to follow where it led.
We have grown so accustomed to the Magi and their unique part in the Christmas story that we forget how risky and rare their choice to follow their star was. They had to leave everyone and everything behind. They had to be willing to go where they had never gone before.
As they loaded up to leave for parts unknown, the Magi also had to reckon with people’s well-meaning questions. “Are you people mad? What about your families? Your jobs? Your bills?”
There’s no record of this sort of exchange of course but these are the questions people inevitably ask. Questions that can hold us back, if we aren’t careful.
How well I remember the day when it dawned on a 20-something friend that no matter what he did or where he went his lucrative career would largely be unsatisfying. “I’ll stick with this and do what genuinely compels me when I’m retired,” he said. Oh, my beautiful friend, I thought, your star may well have moved on by then. Follow it now.
It takes a special kind of bravery to follow a star’s sacred leading.
As I say this, it’s hard not to think of Mary Hoch and the star that appeared to her. It grew so bright she couldn’t not see it any more. Following it would lead Mary to question just about everything she believed to be true about her faith, her political inclinations, and even herself.
Thinking about Mary and her Magi-like journey, I recall what Carol Keeney once shared—how, in the middle of a successful career in bilingual education, her star appeared and soon she was atop her camel bound for community organizing.
Thinking about these two women and their stars has me reflecting on Kevin Kuns and his. Kevin opted to shutter a business he spent years building to take on the leadership of the Montrose County Democrats, a job with no timeclock to punch and no paycheck to collect. Like the Magi, Kevin has gladly offered his treasure—himself—in service to the greater good.
Mary’s star was for Mary. Carol’s was for Carol. Kevin’s star shone in the sky for him to see. But these three aren’t the only ones. Each one of us has followed a star at its rising in our lives. Each of us has at some point dared to trust its power and light, letting it lead us even when we weren’t sure where our trek would take us.
When our star appears, sometimes we go alone. Or, as with the Magi, sometimes we are blessed to travel with a partner or two. Occasionally a star will appear to a collection of people.
Sometime around 2012, maybe even a little before that, a star of promise arose in the sky that caught the attention of a handful of progressive Christians minding their own business in Montrose, Colorado.
They would be so taken by its brilliance, so enlivened by its presence, that they knew the only thing to do was to saddle up as the Magi did, to follow their star’s leading. They would depart from one spiritual home and establish a new one, a thousand miles away and just down the road. That’s us. That’s Community Spirit’s story.
We don’t let ourselves contemplate this often, because to do so can be as overwhelming as peering into the heavens at length, but at work in all of God’s creation, in all of our lives, is a logic beyond logic, a reason beyond reason.
This reason beyond reason, this logic beyond logic is what compelled the Magi to leave the familiar and move in the direction of the unknown. A logic beyond logic, a reason beyond reason had them travel entirely at night so as to never lose track of their star.
Some of us have done that too, say, by marrying the person we married. Or selling when everyone was shouting “buy.” Spiritually speaking, this is what has enabled us to leap into life’s dark voids because something deep within has assured us that, yes, we will find our way.
Twenty-some years ago when my first career ended abruptly, against all reason and some very good advice, I decided was not interested in seeking comparable work elsewhere.
Why? A new star was now shining in my sky. I had to follow even though I had no idea where I was headed. I had to follow not because, like the Magi, I was looking for a newborn king but because, like the Magi, I knew a light greater than any star was waiting to be found.
Bearing witness to this, a friend tucked a quote from Carl Sandberg in my pocket as I headed out: “I’m an idealist,” the note began, “I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way.”
But it wasn’t idealism that propelled me. It was the pull of a star that didn’t even have a name but seemed to know mine. A star I’ve done my darndest to follow ever since, even, as with the Magi, I’ve needed directions.
Looking back on our seven-plus years as a congregation, I see us traveling like the Magi did. We too navigate by starlight. We too have learned to feel our way forward in the dark, discovering along the way that there is a logic beyond logic, a reason beyond reason.
Call this what you will but I call it Spirit, the Wisdom of God, the Gracious Activity of the Holy that speaks and guides, comforts and encourages.
I know no other church like Community Spirit. I know no other spiritual community with this gift, this capacity, this willingness to trust in the leading of a light beyond ourselves.
Sure, churches are given to say, and say often, that they believe in the Spirit. Sure, churches regularly pray for God’s direction. But when push comes to shove, when the going gets bumpy, when the path head isn’t well-lit, these communities will retreat to the safety of fixed ideas and grasp at tattered maps from other times and places.
As remarkable as we are as a community of faith, we’re not immune from the temptation to rely on logic or to look for an end to our quest before its time.
The Magi assumed, and we can’t fault them for this, that they would find the one they were seeking in Jerusalem. That they would bow before Israel’s newborn king there in the nation’s seat of political and spiritual power.
But that’s not where the tiny Messiah was to be found. And so it can be said that for a few brief days, maybe a week, the Magi were off course.
But their star did not fail them. And soon enough they were on their way again.
They found the child, found the one they had been seeking. And there in little Bethlehem, they fell to their knees before heaven’s child, earth’s gift. They knelt and offered up their treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And maybe, just maybe, they even wept. Wept for the sheer joy of having found a gift greater than any worldly treasure. A gift not only to the Jews, but even to them, men from a far off country and a completely different faith.
As I think about this holy, heavenly moment in Bethlehem, I recall something else Carl Sandberg had to say: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”
And this baby, the one the Magis sought and finally found, was clearly God’s way of ensuring that the world would indeed go on. No wonder the joy, and the tears, and the gifts. No wonder we are still celebrating his birth, still grateful for the stars that lead us to him.
Let us be in prayer:
Holy One, Creator of Day and Night, Giver of Stars and Bestower of Souls that Recognize Them:
We pause to offer our treasure of gratitude this morning for the ways you come to us, for the ways you call us forth, for the sacred pull that would have us step in your direction, that would compel us to quest for that which we have not yet been seen but which we trust is deeply, truly good.
Be with each of us, that we each might catch sight of our star. Be with us as we navigate by the light of the moon.
Grant us grace in those times, as with the Magi, we find we are close but not quite there.
And when at last we find your radiant light, receive our gifts—bended knees, treasures we have carried long distances, and tears of joy for what—and whom—we have finally found.