Today is Epiphany, a holy day in the Christian calendar. It is the twelfth day of Christmas, and is traditionally celebrated as the commemoration of the Magi’s visit to the Christ child, as told in the Gospel of Matthew.
Luke gave us the shepherds -- simple, down-to-earth, easy to identify with. They are our kind of folk. Matthew gave us the Magi -- exotic, mysterious, difficult to understand. We aren’t quite sure what to make of them. We don’t really know if they ever even existed, or were a plot device created by Matthew to dramatically illustrate the gift of God’s Light coming into the world for all to see and follow. And I’m not sure it really matters. Because either way we still need to ask the important theological question -- “So what?” What do the Magi have to teach us? What do they tell us about what it means to follow God’s light?
They’ve been called wise men, but much of their story doesn’t seem very “wise” (at least in terms of how the world usually understands that term). They had a passion for seeking after meaning in life.
The path they chose was in the stars -- watching for patterns and portends. It was an occupation that required careful attention, a keen intellect, and lots of patience. And so they watched and waited. But then one day something happened, something that would change their lives forever, something that wouldn’t have seemed very “wise” at all. They saw something that caught their attention -- a star that seemed to proclaim something powerfully new coming into the world.
But they did more than just watch it. They did more than simply study it. They did more than merely discuss it among themselves. They decided to follow it. They packed their bags. They collected gifts. They said goodbye to family and friends. And they set off to follow a star. They had no idea where their path would lead them, or how long it would take. They only knew that something important was happening, and they needed to be a part of it. Their passion for seeking after meaning suddenly became very real and very personal.
Now fast forward about 2,000 years. What are the stars in our world that we might follow? Where might our paths lead us, if we will take the risk to step beyond the safe and the comfortable? For most of us, it probably won’t be literal stars, because that is not where we typically look for meaning. And it won’t necessarily even be the same thing for us as it will be for our neighbor, because each of us have unique gifts and each of us have unique passions.
But one thing we can say with a fair amount of certainty is that it may not seem very “wise” (at least from the perspective of the world around us). When we really follow our passion -- when we dare to step out and let our dreams carry us away -- it very often seems like foolishness. 'It’s just a star. How do you know it means anything? You’ve got responsibilities to consider. What do you mean you don’t know when you’ll be back? I thought you were supposed to be wise!'
I invite you to engage in the holy and sacred practice of following your heart. When we give ourselves over completely to something, it opens up a space for God’s light to come shining through.
Several years ago a star began to rise on the horizon of my life. It seemed to be calling me to something new. At first I ignored it, then I struggled with it, and finally I packed my bags and followed. Stepping into the unknown, I quit my job, left the security of stability and hit the open road for an experience of rest and renewal.
According to the “wisdom” of the world, it seemed pretty foolish. But I had found a star that beckoned me to follow, and I was trusting that following it would lead me where I needed to go. Almost a decade later I am still discovering and living into the implications of that decision, and I remain convinced that it is the light of God, which, among other things, led me here to this place and this moment. My life, your lives, and the world, are being transformed because of just such “foolishness” as that.
So what is your passion? What grabs your attention and won’t let you go? What gifts are bubbling just beneath the surface waiting for you to set them free? Maybe your star is music, or perhaps art. Maybe sharing beauty with the world is the star that is calling you. How foolish are you willing to be? How far are you willing to go to answer that call?
Maybe your passion is helping others. Maybe you read to children, or visit the elderly. Maybe you volunteer at the hospital. Maybe you deliver meals. Maybe you make phone calls to those who are lonely. Maybe compassion is the star that is calling you. How foolish are you willing to be? How far are you willing to go to answer that call?
Maybe your passion is peace. Maybe you have a vision of a world in which war, and conflict, and violence, don’t have to dominate the news. Maybe you have a desire to contribute to the creation of harmony for those with whom we share life on this planet. Maybe shalom is the star that is calling you. How foolish are you willing to be? How far are you willing to go to answer that call?
When we dare to let ourselves even consider following our passions, there will be voices that tell us in no uncertain terms just how foolish we are being.
Often we need to listen no further than the inside of our own heads to hear those voices. They will tell us about how big the problems are, and how small we are. They will tell us about the other times we have tried and failed. They will tell us to be practical and sensible. And all the while the stars are calling us.
God’s Light is shining in the world. In spite of the voices of caution, I invite you to be on the lookout for the star that is calling you, in whatever form that takes. And I invite you to consider being foolish enough to follow. The world will be a brighter place when we dare to follow our stars.