When you were born did people come to welcome you from faraway places? Did strangers bring you expensive gifts? Did they find your house by following a star? If you are like the rest of us mortals, your parents probably received a telegram from Uncle Oscar in Hoboken, a recycled greeting card with an illegible postmark from Aunt Matilda, and a fuzzy baby blanket from some long-forgotten cousin in Sheboygan. If you were really fortunate, maybe you did receive one expensive gift from a stranger—a silver-plated baby cup from your father’s boss! If anyone came from out of town to see you, it was probably your grandparents, and they did not find your house by tracking a star. If visitors did not know your address, they looked it up in the telephone book.
Outside of a child’s parents and close relatives, not too many people celebrate its birth. What’s more, the heavenly constellations have a more serious function to perform than lighting the way toward homes where baby earthlings wait to be admired. Only the Son of God merited that kind of welcome, and the earthly debut of the rest of us is not that important—except to those who love us.
As we leave infancy, we begin to realize that the world does not revolve around us, nor do we have our own personal star.” The desire for recognition and importance sometimes causes us to become “star-struck.” We look for a cause or situation that will help us feel important. Sometimes we seek out others who have “made it big” or are celebrities of some kind. We think that if only we can bring ourselves within their aura, we may be able to bask in some of their glory. We hope that just a fraction of their brilliance may bounce off of us in such a way that others might think it our own. Some live vicariously through such “stars.” Unfortunately, sometimes they are not very discriminating in their choice of whom or what to follow.
Not so the wise men who sought the Messiah, the King of the Jews. The Bible does not really tell us exactly who they were, or even how many there were. Tradition and all the Christmas card manufacturers seem to indicate three persons of royal lineage. For all we know, there might have been only two—or there might have been as many as would comprise a large caravan. Nevertheless, going on the somewhat logical assumption that there was one giver for each of the three gifts mentioned, and in order to maintain the familiar image, let us suppose there were the traditional three.
Can you imagine those wise men gazing into the heavens and dividing the stars? One is in charge. He says to the other two, “OK, I’ll take the little red one off to the left, you take the blue one high on the horizon, and you take the bright one over there on the right. Let’s all meet back here in a week and compare notes on what we have discovered.” Or suppose they decide to follow only one star. They need to decide which one it will be. The choice becomes a matter for considerable discussion. They appoint a committee to help them decide, and the committee tables the matter until a later time so they all can be home for the holidays!
We know that is not how it happened. The wise men followed one star, the one God intended for them to follow. (That was part of their wisdom.) They all arrived at the same place at the same time. Following God’s star gave them unity of purpose and insured their arrival at their intended destination. Those wise men, whoever they were, had something we often lack. They had a reverence for the mystical, a sense of awe and holy wonder.
We moderns seldom allow ourselves to be awed or astounded by what God is doing. Perhaps that is because we do not quite believe that he is really doing it. Besides, we would much rather “do it ourselves.” Each of us wants our own star to follow. We want to follow it in our own way, at our own pace, to the beat of our own drum. It may not even matter very much to us whether or not that star leads anywhere, and if we cannot quite distinguish one star from the others, we will take our own direction anyway. We are determined to go it alone, not because we necessarily like our own company, but because we crave a tailor-made star for a customized life. We want to choose our very own destination, even if we have never been there and are not sure where it is, or if it is a good place in which to be.
When Yeshua promised his disciples a heavenly destination, he said, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.” Can you imagine one of them protesting, “But Lord, I don’t like living in an apartment”? Another complains, “I don’t know if I want to live there until I know more about the neighborhood. Are there any of ‘them’ living there? You know, ‘they’ are the other kind of people, those who are not like us. Are we going to have to live in ‘their’ neighborhood?” Some want more particulars—about the plumbing, the wiring, the utilities and the size of the gardens in back. Others ask suspiciously, “If it’s such a good place, why is the rent free?”
Of course the “rent” is not free. The place God has reserved for us was bought. He paid the price, and it was anything but cheap. It cost him the ignominy of the Incarnation and the ultimate pain of Calvary. Despite that heavy price, many stubbornly resist. They still want to be choosy—about where they live, where they are going, and how they will get there. They want their own way and their own star that will follow them.
Others are not bothering to go anywhere and are not really searching for anything. Society has taught them that life will knock at their door and present them with its “goodies.” Life is not like that. What is truly worthwhile does not sneak up on people and invite them to possess it. That which is truly meritorious always seems to beckon from a distance. It requires us to travel to it. Besides, that which is really good—God’s kind of “good”—may not always seem desirable. For those who want that kind of good and right, all of life is a pilgrimage, just as it was for Father Abraham. Furthermore, most of us are not able to travel “first class” on that journey. Instead, we get loaded aboard the “People’s Express” or steerage class.
But whether or not we travel “first class,” we do have a star to lead us—Yeshua, the Bright and Morning Star. When we commit our lives to him, his light brightens our path and his warmth keeps us growing. If we look for him we can “see” him quite clearly. Then though the path may be narrow, we are willing to follow him because we know that if he guides our way, he will insure our safe arrival.
I recall two rather clever bumper stickers of the past decade that made that point. One declared, “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” The other proclaimed, “If you can’t find God, he’s not the one who is lost.” The Lord God has never changed his location. Humanity has abandoned God by heading in the opposite direction. To find the right path a turn is necessary—a drastic 180° turn at that!
At times the road may seem long, but we have a Star to brighten our way. It may seem lonely, but he is our companion. It may even seem puzzling, but we have a good Book of directions to keep us from going astray. The Messiah laid aside his shining glory to come to this earth—to live and to die. He gave his life that we might live through him and for him, and he lives again to show us the way. That is the complete message of Christmas.