Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12
I feel a kinship with the Persian Magi who visited Jesus. Not just because I would be categorized as a type of Magi today, a scholar, teacher, and spiritual leader, but because every morning around 4:30 a.m. right after I wake up I go out into my backyard and stargaze. I behold for a few minutes the wonder of the universe. The vastness of which previous generations were unaware and I am amazed. Like those magi, I too am looking for a star – for divine guidance – to show me the path to take as a parent and grandparent, citizen, pastor, spiritual seeker, and someone looking for hope and insight to respond to the powers of injustice and planetary destruction that seem to be winning the day.
Perhaps the magi gazed into the heavens two thousand years ago and in their amazement, noticed something amazing, a bright star in the distance. Perhaps they like the author of Psalm 8 experienced the grandeur of the universe too.
When I gaze at the heavens
The work of your wise creativity
The stars and the moon
What are humans that you care about them?
They saw a majestic star and they did what wise women and men of all ages do – they followed the star, believing it to be a sign of a divine revelation.
The scripture doesn’t provide much information about the magi but we can assume:
- The magi come from another spiritual tradition, not Judaism, but the faith of Zoroaster, who spoke of the battle in the universe and our souls between light and darkness.
- They were large spirited people who crossed the boundaries of their religion and ethnicity to follow a star to a strange land.
- They look for the star child, the anticipated spiritual leader, in the halls of greatness, but he is not there. They have the insight to unmask the pretenses of the powerful and the courage to disobey the powerful for a greater good, saving the child.
- And then they look among the common people and behold….a little baby in a simple non-descript dwelling
- And finding him, they worship and share their treasures…for God is doing a new thing!
The magi of today’s reading and every age are dreamers. Part of their wisdom was not only to study the heavens above but the wisdom within, often delivered in nocturnal messages. The have a dream, all three of them, to take another route home, far from the devious Herod and his court.
Dreams can change our lives. The dreams we have at night that reveal something the conscious mind hasn’t noticed in its busyness or desire to control. In dreams, whether sleeping or waking, we explore new possibilities. That is the power of a dream, God in the non-rational, unconscious and synchronous. Wisdom delivered in the womb of darkness.
When we pay attention to those strange nocturnal messengers, everything changes. Joseph dreams of an angel, telling him to forget his pride and religious scruples and marry the girl, despite her unexpected pregnancy. Later Joseph is warned to flee to Egypt, a political refugee, to save his little boy Jesus.
For Magi, a dream guided them to take one path and not another. They had intended to return to Herod, but God had another vision. And, that is the story of our lives: the path you had not intended – the road you hadn’t expected to travel is a holy road, too. God guides us on the road less traveled and the roads not taken.
I know this because my road to South Congregational was unexpected. My goal was to be a seminary dean or president, but the path I sought closed. At the time I was commuting from a visiting professor position in Southern California to Washington DC, where we had moved to support Matt and Ingrid when James was born. When the path I’d sought was no longer viable, I experienced an urge to take another path, congregational ministry, and a less than a month later, I was asked if my name might be given to South Congregational Church. And, my personal and professional life has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. Now my path takes me to Main Street, Centerville; Craigville Beach; Cape Cod hospital and coffee houses and homes.
There is always a path ahead, an alternative possibility. Many of us have taken that unexpected road, felt its strangeness and insecurity, and yet discovered new and amazing adventures along the way. We have discovered, like the magi, that amazement leads to creativity and generosity and generosity leads to insight and new ways of life.
The magi found God on that other route and we experience God in the unexpected and our hearts are opened when we follow the dream.
Churches have dreams too. The dreams of people who erected the first sanctuary on Phinney’s Lane 224 years ago and then moved it down the hill to the center of town and few decades later. A few decades pass and many in this room realize that persons of darker skins are God’s beloved children and that slavery is an affront to God and to those who suffer. They followed the dream of being abolitionists.
Here in a vastly different world – the world of immediate communication, cell antennas and 5g, satellites circling the earth, a world of rapidly changing social customs and religious change – we need to ask ourselves: what is our dream? What new route is God calling us toward? How do we go beyond scarcity to abundant sustainability to follow God’s next dream for us? How do we proclaim good news to a world who sees faith traditions as irrelevant or who have been hurt by the church? How will we imagine new possibilities bursting forth from what we perceive as limitations?
There is a star on the horizon and a dream in our hearts. With the magi, an adventure awaits, a new route ahead with dreams and possibilities and God to guide our steps.