Let us pray:
Lord God, you sent a star to guide to wise men. We pray that you would guide us as well, so that we can see you among us today and find you around us as we go through our lives. Show us your presence, O Lord. In your name we pray, Amen.
Following the Star
I think I’ve talked before about my study abroad experience, when I lived in Germany and Austria for a semester during college. There’s one particular conversation I had that has stuck with me. It was at the church my host family went to, at youth group. We were talking about how I was from Arizona (although I said near California, because everyone knows where California is) but went to school in the state of Indiana, and none of them could understand it. Why would I want to go so far from home? so far from my family? They told me how they were planning on going to school in the same city we were in, or at most one city over, where they’d be an hour’s train ride away.
I had honestly never thought of that before. I grew up, at first on the East Coast, with parents from other states; then we moved to Arizona, and I went to Indiana for college. Staying close to home hadn’t been something I’d considered when thinking about college–but then, I didn’t have deep roots in Arizona the way they did in their city. It was an example of how differently two cultures can think about the same problem.
To be fair, this is Pittsburgh. You probably agree with the Austrians. 🙂
But still, those who are different from us can often show us new ways of thinking and new wisdom. In Matthew we have these foreigners, the wise men, who come to Jerusalem to look for future king of the Jews. They were probably from Arabia–that is, they were not Jewish. They did not worship the Jewish God. The wisdom that brought them to Jerusalem, that set them following the star, was astrology, maybe even magic. They were so different from the Jews, with such different ways of looking at the world. And yet they saw something that sent them on their long, dangerous journey. They knew something that no one in Jerusalem did–for their news that the future king of the Jews had been born set Jerusalem into an uproar. They were able to point Jerusalem to what God was doing.
And so they go and find the baby Jesus, and they worship Him, and they give Him valuable gifts.
And we so often love this story, with its mystery and worship and wisdom. We are eager to include the wise men in our nativity sets. We love to make them as foreign as possible, with bright, flamboyant clothes and funny hats, and they’re riding camels or elephants. We enjoy the glamor of these strangers coming, and not only coming but also worshipping Jesus and giving gifts as valuable as gold and frankincense and myrrh. If we’re honest, we also enjoy the fact that these strangers then left, and headed back to their own home.
But what about the strangers of today? What about the people who seem impossibly foreign–who have what we would call questionable ways of knowing–whose very existence forces us to think about God differently? What do they have to say to us?
For God is not just a God for us, for white Pennsylvanian Lutherans–God is a God of all people, of all classes and races and denominations and nations, and that means that sometimes God speaks from unexpected places. Sometimes God speaks to people who look and think and believe and act differently than we do–and by sometimes I mean really, really often, because most people don’t look like us or think like us or act like us or believe like us. God does not just speak through people who look like us. God speaks through people we don’t expect: through people who are on “the other side” of politics as us; through those who live on the other side of the river, the other side of that bridge; through people who aren’t Steelers; through people who don’t speak English; through your weird neighbor; through someone from Mozambique, or Thailand, or Argentina.
My prayer for all of us this Epiphany, as we celebrate these wise strangers who came to worship Jesus, is that all of us would be able to accept the wisdom of strangers–that all of us will be able to hear when someone shows us a new idea, when they point out something God is doing that we hadn’t noticed before. Even when we agree on almost nothing, God still speaks to and through those around us.