Holy Everything: Be ready to follow unexpected stars
After the excitement of Christmas and New Year's has passed, another sensation sometimes takes the scene: the winter blahs.
But fear not — I bring good news! The 12 days of Christmas wrapped up on Jan. 6, and that means we've now entered the season of Epiphany.
"Epiphany," you say. "What's so cool about that?"
For starters, it's the season in the church year that comes with an astronomical accessory! Farewell, winter blahs. Hello, sparking star.
Let's follow the star all the way back to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2. It's Matthew's version of the story of Jesus' birth and early life.
In Matthew 2:2, the magi mentioned this special star when they asked King Herod about a baby king. "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."
The magi (also called wise men) naively figured Herod would be extra excited about the special lil' baby. But they were wrong. Herod was not excited. He was intimidated and scared because he was afraid of losing power. He pretended to be elated and said to the magi, "Oh neat! A little baby king! How thrilling. Be sure to let me know EXACTLY where you find him so I can attend his baby shower" (personal paraphrase). His real plan was to find the baby and kill him, but the magi didn't know that.
The magi headed out to find Jesus, and the star led them all the way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. They found Jesus and Mary in their home, and Matthew described that the magi were "overwhelmed with joy." They gave him some gifts and then headed home.
There's an important detail in Matthew 2:12, "And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road."
Matthew doesn't get into the specifics of the dream, but it was apparently shocking enough that they decided not to get a baby shower invite to Herod. They avoided him completely and headed home another way.
The star that led the magi to Jesus provided more than just a late-night twinkling in the sky. It was a disruptive fire orb. It was an invitation to participate in God's story, but it also required their willingness to make a shift to their well-laid plans. They weren't going to be able to go home the same way that they came. In a pre-Google maps world, changing course was no small task. They also were going to have to risk upsetting King Herod. That was also no small task because it meant risking their lives. But they took the risks anyway! They followed the nudge provided by the dream, and they changed their plans.
It's easy to forget the disruptive nature of the Epiphany star when we're all huddled around the manger scene. It all seems quaint and quiet. Pretty star in the sky; generous wise men sharing gifts.
There's more to the story, though, and Epiphany gives us a stretch of time to dig deep into all the layers. Epiphany reminds us that participating in God's story can be unpredictable and disruptive. It can mean camel rides through the desert in the middle of nowhere following a star. It can mean disobeying the king's orders in order to preserve the safety of a family of refugees (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph).
In order to participate in the story God was writing through Jesus, the magi had to release whatever they had planned. The Bible says, "They left for their own country by another road." That single sentence makes their decision to shift plans sound easy, but it probably wasn't. We don't know what it took behind the scenes to make that shift. We don't know how many weeks or months it added to the trip home. We don't know how many miles it added between the magi and their loved ones. We don't know what the added miles meant for their access to consistent food and water.
All we know is that God offered a change of plans, and they followed God's lead. They stepped into the adventure of faith. The star led them to join in a story whose significance they had no way to fully grasp.
In this stretch of time between Christmas and Lent, the winter blahs might creep in. And when they do, look up toward the stars. Pause and remember the magi. Reflect on the gift of the uncharted path. Be ready to follow the unexpected stars God places in your sky, even when you aren't sure where they'll lead.