Monday, December 30, 2013
The homily was brief yesterday, the focus on our fifth Sundays being table fellowship, songs, and stories we share with one another.
Text: Matthew 2: 1-12
NARRATOR: In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking,
WISE MEN: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
NARRATOR: 3When King Herod heard this, he was, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him,
PRIESTS AND SCRIBES: “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘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.’”
NARRATOR: 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying,
KING HEROD: “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
NARRATOR: 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the STAR had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
(Our children were the stars in this reading, standing each time they heard the word stars—with arms outstretched and smiles beaming.)
Stars of Wonder . . . Guide Us To Thy Perfect Light
The ancients read the stars for signs of what was happening on earth. That’s why the story says that wise men, having seen a new star, traveled to Judea in search of some important, game-changing event.
In a scientific sense, heavenly bodies like stars have affected earthly events. Our cosmic history teaches us that planet earth “evolved” from interstellar events. Science says that our physical bodies are literally made up of star dust. All material here on our planet was created by compressions and explosions and interactions of stellar bodies far, far away. In that sense we are very much connected to these distant stars. So today’s “wise men” and “wise women” also study the stars to tell us about our history and our future here on planet earth—which we now know to be just one of countless planets.
But long ago and still today wise women and men also “paint the stars” as a very human impulse, as Vincent Van Gogh put it. Our current discussion series is titled after this quote by Van Gogh: “When I have a terrible need of—dare I say religion—then I go outside at night and paint the stars.”[i] That is, we are not content merely to measure the size and distance and brilliance of stars. We also want to experience their beauty and ponder what all this vastness means. We feel something when we look at the stars. And we wonder what it all means. And that is a religious impulse.
Take a look at this picture taken by the Hubble telescope recently. (See image above). How beautiful is all this light. How small is our own human perspective on the universe.[ii]
Sometimes we must kneel down with a realization of God’s vastness and with a hopefulness that creation continues and that not everything depends on me, on us, not even on planet earth. Which is not to excuse our own carelessness with our earth. Because this is the only planet you and I and our children’s children will ever know as home. But there is something bigger, grander, and more enduring. And although there is, according to science, the element of chance and risk in the future we are co-creating, there is also purpose and a loving energy that moves us forward toward life and love. The future, which is the name some people give for God, is star-light bright—and evolving toward hope and goodness and connecting us through a fundamental connection to all things.
And yet at the center of the Christmas story is a baby. Galaxies upon galaxies contain God—and yet one very particular manger at one moment in time contained one little child in whom God was uniquely made manifest. God is both limitless—and highly specific. Completely unfathomable—and yet intimately known.
The wisest of wise men and women have to kneel before such mystery. With awe and wonder and love and thanks.
The song Caitlin is singing tonight begins with these words from a star gazer who thinks “maybe there’s a loving God”:
I’m trying to work things out.
I’m trying to comprehend.
Am I the chance result of some great accident?
I hear a rhythm calling me,
the echo of a grand design.
I spend each night in the backyard
staring up at the stars in the sky.
—Sara Groves “Maybe There’s a Loving God”
Stars of Wonder, Guide us to your perfect light. Amen.
[i] We are offering on Sunday mornings a powerful DVD-based discussion series on evolutionary Christianity using the “Painting the Stars” curriculum produced by Living the Questions.
[ii] December 17, 2013: This festive NASA Hubble Space Telescope image resembles a holiday wreath made of sparkling lights. The bright southern hemisphere star RS Puppis, at the center of the image, is swaddled in a gossamer cocoon of reflective dust illuminated by the glittering star. RS Puppis rhythmically brightens and dims over a six-week cycle. It is one of the most luminous in the class of so-called Cepheid variable stars. The nebula flickers in brightness as pulses of light from the Cepheid propagate outwards. Hubble took a series of photos of light flashes rippling across the nebula in a phenomenon known as a “light echo.” See hubblesite.org for more mind-blowing pictures of stars, galaxies, and nebulae taken by the Hubble telescope.