Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Astrolonomy is the science and study of space. Astronomy is the magical practice of reading the position of stars in space. For as long as mankind has been on earth, we have been fascinated with what lives up in the stars. As a young boy I can remember looking up into space and wondering what it would be like to battle darth vader, or fly the enterprise or shake off cylons.
But these fantasies derailed a bit on january 28, 1986 when the challenger shuttle exploded shortly after take off from the kennedy space center. The explosion of the challenger made me realize that, with all the knowledge we have, we really don’t know very much at all.
But we know so much
We are students of the stars, like the “three wise men.”
The magi, as they are commonly known in the bible, are the three wise men whom we see gathered around the manger of the baby Jesus in the stable in christmas tradition. They followed a star.
matthew 2.1,2 and 7-12
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east[b] and have come to worship him."
7Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. 8Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, "Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I'll join you at once in your worship."
9Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. 10They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!
11They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.
12In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.
Now, before we get back to the magi, let me make a few observations about the gospel of Matthew. The gospel of Mattew was written to a primarily Jewish audience. As such, Matthew writes with the intent of showing Jesus as the Messiah, the savior and king of the Jews. So his gospel, unlike the other 3, follows the story of Joseph not of Mary.
Joseph, a descendant of King David – the royal family of Israel, like the Kennedys to the USA – is noticealy silent in his own tale, but is visited three times by angels who herald the supernatural coming of the Messiah. When these three wise men enter the story – the story of the king of the Jews, the Jewish messiah – they enter through supernatural means consistent with the revelation and terror of angels – they follow a star.
They are astrologers.
They are magi, wizards and sorcerers, diviners and readers of the stars. They are foreign priests and soothsayers of the religious caste in Persia. The book of Daniel talks about Daniel as a rab mag, or “chief magus” which is the same connotation used for these men. Daniel was “skilled in interpreting dreams” and was entrusted with a messianic vision – he saw one coming like the son of man – whose birth would be heralded by a star.
Stars were seen as portents, as signs, of royal births. These wise men knew they were coming to see a king, and though they didn’t arrive in time for his birth – sorry, nativity set creators – they arrived when he was just a young boy, maybe two years old, to pay hommage.
The magi were led by the stars, and by their dreams
They were warned in a dream not to return back to Herod.
Now there’s a lot going on here. Court sorcerers and royal priests from Persia came to see the birth of a king in Bethlehem. But en route, they encountered the “King of Jerusalem” Herod, who was a Roman puppet that made a living out of oppressing his own people. This “King of Jerusalem” heard about the birth of a new king, and recognized immediately that this new king could bring in a new kingdom, a kingdom that would threaten his power and structure.
These royal, Persian, priests – undecieved by Herod – went on their way to find Christ, the annointed one, the newborn king, and when they found him they worshipped him and gave him gifts befitting a king. This was the gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In case you’re wondering, frankincense and myrrh were always gifts for kings – they were aromatic spices, made from dried tree sap, often used as incence, that were given at coronations, births, and funerals [Nero once burned myrrh in commemoration of his late wife for one year]. We must ask ourselves what it means that these foreign priests came to honor the baby Jesus, and not Herod, the King of Jerusalem. We must ask ourselves what it means for a baby to be honored above a king. We must ask what it means for a foreigner to worship the new king of the Jews, instead of his own people.
Why shepherds and foreigners and angels? Why not priests and families, and business owners? What does it mean when our expectations are pulled down? Why is the world and kingdom to which we belong not the world and kingdom that God seems to be honoring?
And isn’t it interesting that God chose to warn the magi in their dreams? These were men who communicated in dreams, who made their living from dreams, and God chose that medium to communicate with them. And not just with them, with Joseph and Mary and a host of other characters.
God is the god of our dreams, and we must ask ourselves if we are being led by our dreams, and if He is the lord of our dreams, and if our dreams are steering us correctly towards Him and what He values.
The psalmist wrote, May He grant you according to your heart's desire, and fulfill all your purpose (Psalm 20:4). We also know that psalm 37.4 says that if we delight ourselves in the Lord He shall give us the desire of our hearts. Now, when I was young I always thought that meant God would give me whatever I wanted; but at this point in my life, I’m rather tempted to think it means that He will govern my desires, that He will places desires in my heart and teach me to want good things, that my mind will be set on things above.
Because I know that I am led by my desires. I do everything I do because I want to. Even if I do something I don’t want to do – something selfless – I do it because I want to be good, or obedient, or selfless.
We do what we do because we’re led by our desires, and because we’re led by our dreams.
At Westwinds we’re led by our dream to cultivate a community centered around Jesus Christ, expressing a faith that is both ancient and a faith representative of the future at the same time. We’re led by a dream that we can be a church that matters to our community – that we can innovate ourselves into oblivion, trying every exciting and wonderful new thing so we can live in love, so we can live in Christ, so we can experience the presence of God and the power of community in our midst. We’re led by a dream that church doesn’t have to keep people away from experiencing God, but can lead people into his heart, so that we can know Him. And so that we can love Him and feel Him and sense that He is with us.
We’re led by a dream of becoming new prophets and messengers, we’re led by a dream of revolution – of throwing away a mindset based on consumption and embracing a life of passion and fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
But people always wonder about us.
Not just our church, people wonder about us as Christians.
Because we’re flawed, we’re messed up. We’re crooked sticks, not straight, not perfect, and people wonder if God can use a crooked stick to draw a straight line. The magi were crooked sticks, foreigners, pagans, sorcerers, but God used them to point to the Christ.
Westwinds is a crooked stick, but God is using us to lead people to him. I am a crooked stick, and you, and my family, and yours, but God can use us to foster community to facilitate love, and to embrace the world. God can use you to draw a straight line, no matter how crooked you are, if you will let him.
The trick about drawing straight lines has little to do with what stick you’ve got, and a whole lot to do with who’s holding on to it.
Will we let Him guide us? Will we be used to draw lines running back to Him? Will our lives point to God, or to something else? Will our dreams point to God, or to something else?
Do we even care?