Stars and Acorns

Matthew 2:1-12

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[1]

In a small Southern town there was a beautiful nativity scene in the town square.  It was obvious that great skill and talent had gone into creating it.  A visitor from the north stopped to admire it, but was bothered by one small feature. The three wise men were wearing firemen’s helmets.  He wondered quite a bit about that.

At a gas station on the edge of town, he asked the lady behind the counter about the helmets on the wise men. She answered harshly, “You Yankees never do read the Bible!” The man assured her that he did, but simply couldn’t recall anything about firemen in the Bible. She jerked her Bible from behind the counter and flipped through some pages, and finally jabbed her finger at a passage. Sticking it in his face she said:

“See, it says right here,  ‘The three wise man came from afar.'”[2]

How many of you have nativity scenes at your house?   Are any of your wise men wearing firemen’s helmets?  So much what we know about the wise men is, kind of like those firemen’s helmets, not in the Bible. The wise men have sparked our imaginations over the centuries, and they can still inspire us today.

What we know:

  • They were magi, Greek word for magician or scholar
    • The Message version says they were musicians (a band of scholars)
  • They came from the east
  • They saw an unusual star and followed it
  • They showed up in Jerusalem sometime after Jesus was born asking questions and freaked out Herod
  • The star led them to Jesus and they worshipped him with joy, and gave him gifts:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh  (That’s what a lopsided cow says…)
    • Their gifts are possibly an allusion to Isaiah’s vision of nations rendering tribute to Jerusalem: “A multitude of camels shall cover you. they shall bring gold and frankincense, and proclaim the praise of the Lord” (Matthew 2:11, Isaiah 60:6).
  • They listened to angels and went home by another route

[3]

[4]But over the years, we have added so much more. What tradition says:

  • There were three (because of the three gifts)
  • They have names:
    • Melchior hailed from Persia,
    • Gaspar (also called “Caspar” or “Jaspar”) from India, and
    • Balthazar from Arabia.
  • They were from Persia, or they were from three different countries
  • Some say these men were each from a different land, representing the entire world bowing before Jesus[5]
  • Some say the gifts had special symbolic meanings:
    • gold signified Jesus’ status as “King of the Jews;”
    • frankincense represented the infant’s divinity and identity as the Son of God; and
    • myrrh, often used to anoint the dead, reflected Jesus’ mortality.

Who were the magi?  Scholars have proposed that they were:

  1. Jews who remained in Babylon after the exile and knew OT
  2. Eastern astrologers who studied ancient manuscripts from around the world
  3. Men who received special revelation from God

How did a star lead them?

  • Some say it was an alignment of planets. Some say the birth of a super nova, a new star
  • Matthew 2:9 says it went ahead of them and stopped over the place where Jesus was. How did that happen?
  • Some say the star was an angel, which fits ancient belief that stars were angels[6]
  • I think of Tinkerbell in the Peter Pan movies, flitting about as a ball of light which Peter Pan follows

Why was Herod so upset? 

  • The magi ask about the king of the Jews, but Herod calls himself the king of the Jews.
  • It was widely believed that stars heralded the birth of human beings, especially kings, who were destined for greatness.[7]

Why do these wise men spark our imagination so much?

  • Their open mindedness encourages us to be similarly open minded.
  • Their journey to worship God encourages us to be worshipping God.
  • Their mysterious appearance and return by a different way encourages us to remember that the ways of God are sometimes mysteries to us, and we too need to be willing to seek God in different ways.

One of the different ways that we have been seeking God is our star words. There are some wonderful theological reasons for this tradition:[8]

  1. The Magi followed a star, which ultimately led them to Jesus. Therefore, we too use all the resources we have available to us—including creative prayer practices and star words—to move closer to Jesus.
  2. We know that God uses multiple ways to guide us and speak to us. Star words are a way to help us look for God at work in the world around us, both now and in hindsight.
  3. It is often easy to be distracted and forget God in our daily lives. Having a star word to consider both in present days, as well as to reflect on at the end of the year, allows for us to see God in ways we may not have seen God before. This is the greatest gift.
  4. The most common prayer practice for many involves speaking to God as opposed to silence or contemplation. Star words invite us to a prayer rhythm of reflection and review that can be a powerful new way to connect with God.
  5. If we draw a word without looking, we practice the spiritual gift of receiving, and let God be in control in that moment.

But wait, there’s myrrh…

  • These words, like the story of the wise men, spark our imagination and help us to Imagine the possibilities of following God in new ways.
  • These words can guide us to dream about new things, and different directions.

How is following a star like planting an acorn?

  • Mighty oaks from little acorns grow… But only if you plant them.  Your star word can help you grow if you use it.
  • Acorns and star words are signs of hope for future, and faith that God will make us and the acorns grow.
    • In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. – Isaiah 61:3
  • Unlike other kinds of plants that only grow for a season and then are gone, trees will last long-term, hopefully even beyond our lifetimes.  And we want our faith and love to do the same.
    •  Which is why I’m excited to share this book

What changed between the beginning and the end of the book?

What were they doing that made that happen? 

  • The field filled with trees
  • Generations learned about sharing and planting
  • People gathered, family grew

Hoping and dreaming, planting and sharing.

We need to do that too.

Every year in December, our session (board of elders) and deacons meet together. This year we had cookies and spiced cider, so it was a bit like a Christmas party, and I gave each one of them some acorns.

I encouraged them to plant the acorns and to share hopes and dreams.

We’re collecting hopes and dreams on this white board. There’s another one upstairs in Creation Hollow where we have our Wednesday morning creative time.  I’ve noticed that whenever we get together we’re already hoping and dreaming and sharing ideas, so I want us to capture those and plant them and help them grow.

As we move forward into 2023, as Paul says in Ephesians 3: 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Thanks, God.

“Oaks are keystone plants, the central

life form upon which so many other species

in the ecosystem depend. . . a good year for oaks

is a good year for everybody.

No other tree genus supports so much life.”

 -Dr. Douglas W. Tallamy , The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees [9]


[1] Photo by Walter Chávez on Unsplash

[2] http://www.humormatters.com/holidays/Christmas/xmasjokes.htm

[3] National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/three-kings-magi-epiphany?loggedin=true&rnd=1673103259299

[4] Photo by Inbal Malca on Unsplash

[5] Life Application Bible, New Living Translation, Tyndale Publishing, pg.1992

[6] Ben Witherington III, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Matthew, pg. 57ff

[7] Witherington

[8] These statements are adapted from those written by Rev. Sarah Speed | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org.

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/17/opinion/oak-trees-conservation-ecosystems.html

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