Imagine the Possibilities

Imagine the possibilities of following a star. Imagine the possibilities of following Jesus.

Read Matthew 2:1-12, Isaiah 60:1-6 here.

Listen here:

Imagine the possibilities…of Following a Star  …of Following Jesus

Whenever one of our kids goes on a trip, I will check in with them by sending a text that says, “Are you there yet?”  I know it’s an annoying question, but I love asking it, especially since they used to ask it so much from the back seat on family trips.  Did your kids do this too?  Sometimes it’s particularly ridiculous for me to ask because I know there’s no way they could be there yet.  They will humor me with an appropriate reply.

“No, mom.  I’m still in the driveway getting packed up.”

I think they know me well enough to know that what I’m really saying is, “I miss you.  I care about you. I want to stay in touch with you.”

At some point in the journey they will send me their location using one of the apps that lets me follow them on a map.  I love this!  GPS is such a beautiful technology.  And not all that much different, when you get down to basics, from what the wise men were doing to find Jesus.  They followed a star, and GPS also uses the stars.

GPS is based on satellites that are in orbit around the earth, a relatively new technology.  But those satellites are always moving as they journey around the earth, and the earth is always moving as it spins and makes its journey around the sun.   The G in GPS stands for Global:

Global

Positioning

System

but it really should stand for Galactic

Galactic

Positioning

System

because the way they figure out where things are on earth is by triangulating with a very specific kind of star called a quasar.[1]

artist's_rendering_ulas_j1120+0641A quasar is a massive and extremely remote celestial object, that gives off exceptionally large amounts of energy.[2]  Everything in the universe is always moving.  The stars are moving too.  What makes quasars better for GPS is that they’re farther away.  We can see them because they’re bigger and stronger, but their distance makes their movement less in relation to us. They are a more stable point of reference.

There’s a whole lot more math and science involved, so I’ll stop there, and, let’s be honest, some of you know way more about this than I will ever grasp, and some of you are already planning to Google this and see if I’m right.

My point is that even with all our modern technology, we’re still doing what the wise men were doing, what ancient mariners were doing, we’re navigating by the stars.  And in our navigating we’re always looking for a more stable point of reference, but the most stable point we will ever find is Jesus.  But following Jesus will take us outside our comfort zones, and we’ll need to be able to face and overcome our fears to be able to follow.

One of the parts of the wise men story that always seemed odd to me is that they were following a star that was moving.

Matthew tells us:

“. . . ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.” (Matthew 2:9)

Scientists have done all kinds of research to figure out what exactly was happening there, and there are lots of theories.  I always thought that the odd part was that it was moving, but it turns out that the odd part is actually that it stopped, and that it stopped over Jesus.  Because as I just mentioned, everything in the entire universe is moving.  No star is actually stationery, although the ones that are farthest away seem to be stationery.

Matthew didn’t quite know how to explain what was really happening with that star.  We do know the wise men were using their knowledge of the stars and the scriptures to find Jesus.  They were willing to leave the comfort of their homes and go after the dream of finding the Messiah, the one who had been promised.  Maybe they heard the call of Isaiah in our other reading for today:

“Arise and shine for your light has come.” (Isaiah 60:1)

They were doing what Isaiah said would happen:

“Nations will come to your light.” (Isaiah 60:3)

It wasn’t easy for them to come.  We don’t know how far they had to travel, or what they encountered along the way.  We do know they had to deal with King Herod who pretended to also be looking for the Messiah, but was actually looking to eliminate anything that would threaten his position as king.  He’d had to fight hard to get there, and he’d already had to kill some people to get there, and so Herod was afraid that this baby the wisemen were seeking would be another threat.

Herod wasn’t just a little bit afraid.  He was terrified.  The Greek word for fear that’s used here even sounds like terrified: tarasso. Even more amazing, Matthew tells us that all of Jerusalem was also afraid.

“When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:3)

What were they afraid of?  Maybe that this would set Herod off in a rage, or maybe, in simplest terms, change.[3]  Though King Herod was an evil tyrant, he was a strong leader, and strong leaders bring stability.  Sometimes we will choose a bad situation over a better one simply because one is known and stable, and we fear the unknown.

Matthew starts off telling us when this happens with the words, “In the time of King Herod…” (Matthew 2:1)

Matthew shows us that King Herod was the stable point in the story.[4] Herod is, in a sense, the quasar in the story, the fixed point that tells us where we are in history.  And Herod’s fear is what all of Jerusalem is following.

But not those wise men.  They are following a star because they know that God is up to something.  They know that God is always up to something.  Matthew tells us that they knew the words of the prophet Micah:

“‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:6, Micah 5:2,4)

Since they knew the words of Micah, they may also have known the words of Isaiah:

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

And if they knew Micah and Isaiah, they probably also knew the words of Moses found in Deuteronomy:

From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. (Deut. 4:29)

In Deuteronomy, Moses had said that if the people turned away from God, they would lose their place in the Promised Land and be scattered among the nations of the world, but even then, if from those far off lands, if they would turn back to God and seek him with all their hearts and souls, they would find him.

Here in Matthew, we find the wise men doing just that.  Seeking from far off lands.

You know how we know they were truly wise?  Even though they had GPS, galactic positioning system, because they were following that star, they still stopped and asked for directions. We women know how hard that is for so many men. Matthew says that when they got to Jerusalem, they were asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2)

In the older versions of GPS, if you made a wrong turn, or if the GPS lost signal, the voice would say, “recalculating.”  GPS systems don’t say that out loud anymore, but it’s still constantly doing that, constantly sending and receiving data and adjusting, because we are moving, the earth is moving, the galaxy is moving.

Jesus is our ultimate fixed point.  He’s the creator of the universe, the creator of the quasars.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

Everything else is continually changing.  We are continually changing, because Jesus is making all things new.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

So we need to be continually recalculating, continually asking God for direction.

One opportunity we have for doing that are the star words we’ll get today.  Maybe like me you’ve wondered if God can really speak to us through a word on a piece of paper shaped like a star.  Yes, if we’ll let him.  Jesus told us that he is always with us.  He’s right here, right now.  The problem isn’t him, it’s us.  We aren’t always listening.

God is always trying to tell us that he cares about us, and that he wants to stay in touch with us.  He said that loud and clear when he sent us Jesus.

So I have a question for you.

Are we there yet?

No, we’re not, but if we’re willing to reach for the stars and follow Jesus wherever he leads us, imagine the possibilities.

12391815_10203836122302442_1660029908573186550_nSeveral years ago the church I was pastoring had a come-as-you-are Christmas pageant in their Christmas Eve worship service.[5]  Come-as-you-are because everyone was invited to grab a hat or a prop and come forward at the appropriate point in the story.  This was also the year we had our Christmas Eve service at the synagogue because our sanctuary had just been burned out by an arsonist.  In that worship service, we had people from the synagogue, and people from our church, and people from the community who came to see if a church could really have Christmas worship in a synagogue.  862_1304665172893897_5492632140294045462_nEveryone was invited to play a part in telling the story.  We only pre-planned one part – the three kings.  I would have been afraid to even ask for this to happen, but it was the rabbi’s idea, and it was beautiful.

10262074_10203836122062436_555851168113483171_nThe rabbi, the imam, and the community relations officer from the police department were the three kings.  It was multi-cultural in a way I wouldn’t have imagined could ever happen.

Imagine the possibilities when we face and overcome our fears so that we can follow Jesus in new ways and into new places.

Imagine the possibilities if we truly trusted and believed God when he says, “I care about you.”  “I want to stay in touch with you.”  “I want you to be all that I created you to be.”

Are we there yet?  No, but we’ll all get there together.

[1] https://www.space.com/7480-deep-space-objects-guide-earths-gps-system.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quasar

[3] Some theories here are similar to mine. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/2-3.htm

[4] Timothy Tyson, “Some Sympathy for Herod,” Journal for Preachers, 2010

[5] This happened December 24, 2015 at Congregation B’nai Israel in Galveston, Texas.  Rabbi Marshal Klaven invited Westminster Presbyterian Church, Galveston, to hold Christmas Eve worship in the synagogue. The session (board of elders) at Westminster couldn’t wait to say yes, yes, yes!  Dr. Ahmed Ahmed was the imam who graciously agreed to join us and brought his family and others from his congregation. Sgt. Destin Sims from the Galveston Police Department was the third wise man.

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