A Note on Stars

Matthew 2:1-12

Necks tilted upward, eyes skyward,
the magi halt, captivated.

The magi are star-gazers to be sure.

There’s something about stars, isn’t there?

The way they sparkle the night and speckle the sky with silver glitter.
Their luminosity shoots through space at light-year speed.
Still, the demur stars wait until the quiet of night to reveal themselves.

No wonder the magi halt, captivated.

Familiar with the stars,
these magi are likely Zoroastrian astrologers.
(Zoroastrianism was a religion found in the current area of Iran.)

Thus, stargaze the Zoroastrian astrologers do.

One night, something catches their eye in the firmament;
suddenly, they know.

They say to each other, “Tonight is the night we leave home.”

And so they leave … the familiar.

We don’t know the names of these magi.
We don’t actually know how many there were,
or even what gender they were.

All we know is that these people were magi,
a name that has an air of mystery.

Sometimes we refer to these magi as the wise ones.

What do you think made the magi wise?

Here’s a hypothesis:

The magi are wise because they looked up in the sky and saw a star;
and they decided to follow it
even though they did not know where it was going to lead them.

Perhaps they were the first to say, “We don’t know.”
They did not know where they were going, but still they went.

There’s seems to be a parallel to the untamed terrain that the magi faced
and our own uncertainties in life today.

There are so many things we don’t know –
When will we stop worrying about our loved ones dying of COVID?
When will we stop worrying that we will die of the COVID?
When the pandemic relent?
When can we hug again in church?

How do I get Google, Siri, or Alexa to give me directions … through life?

What we need desperately at this moment is an epiphany.

What is an epiphany?

Church consultant Jessica Davis defines an epiphany as a startling appearance.
It’s when you say, oh my goodness I just realized this really important thing!

In the church context, epiphany is the time
when a person or a community suddenly encounters how Jesus is.
This changes everything.

In the following Sundays, we will read stories from people and communities who encounter Jesus and have a moment of, “Holy goodness! Now I get it!”

Epiphany reminds us that
Jesus blazes a trail to our hearts

In the stories that we will hear in the following Sundays,
Jesus always comes to people as they need him to be.

God has a longing to draw near to us,
to slip on skin and spend hours with us,
exchanging eye contact, conversing,
and enjoying our enfleshed presence.

Sometimes it can hurt to be human.
Yet God becomes human and comes close,
blessing our bodies, our hurts, our scars, our stretch marks.

As we learn to be human, what directs us?
What would make us wise?

The magi are wise because they looked up in the sky and saw a star;
and they decided to follow it
even though they did not know where it was going to lead them.

My favorite part of the magi’s story is that they did not know where they were going to end up.

It reminds me of this phenomenon I have been observing: marcescence.
I see marcescence as I hike in the winter forests, noticing bare trees. Among them will stand a baby beech with its tan leaves still attached, crinkling in the wind.

That is marcescence. Marcescence is when a tree keeps its dead and withered leaves through winter and into spring. The tan leaves remain on the tree until spring. You see this in young beeches and sometimes oaks.

Ned Friedman, director of the Arnold Arboretum, explains the phenomenon this way: “How does [marcescense] work? Every leaf in a temperate woody plant creates an abscission zone at the base of the … leaf stalk. The abscission zone is comprised of cells designed to separate from each other and allow the leaf to fall from the parent plant—and it is typically activated in the fall. However, in marcescent plants, the abscission zone is not activated until the spring.

Why? No one has a clue.”

Just start to take a look around you these days.
Some trees do not lose their dry, tan leaves in the autumn.
The trees hold onto them.

Why? No one has a clue.
The scientists do not know and cannot explain it.

There is some of that same mystery
in the story of the magi, and our story today.

Alas, Google cannot give me the directions I need to navigate the pandemic.
And even science cannot explain marcescent trees.
Still these unexplainable leaves remain,
a gift to all who look upon their glory as they crinkle in the wind.
Still the star of Jesus calls to us,
beyond anything we can explain.

Like the magnetic pull of the sun, our closest star.
our hearts remain captivated by magnetism of love. God’s love.
God’s desire. God who desires to be with us at all costs.

What would make us wise?

The silence of the winter night calls to us;
The snow muffles distracting noises;
Trees with tan leaves stand as sentinels of epiphany.

Something mysterious will yet happen.

Crane your neck, if you can. Gaze upward.
Look around Peak through your windows.
You can’t explain it, b u t !

Even now the star burns, the night beckons.

What will you do?

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