Star Light, Star Bright

“Star Light, Star Bright”

epiphany stained glass

Matthew 2:1-12 (2:2) – January 6, 2019

Have you ever been far away from the city at night—perhaps downstate Illinois, or the upper peninsula of Michigan, or in the Rocky Mountains—and looked up to see the sky filled with stars? I just was in rural Indiana a few nights ago. The night was clear and crisp, and I saw more lovely stars than I had seen for a number of years. The heavens at night are truly amazing. We can all be astounded, just by looking up.

About the time of the birth of Christ, there were some wise men, scholars from the East, who did just that. They not only looked up and admired the night sky, but they also studied the sky, the stars, and the movement of the planets with great intensity. Two thousand years ago, some Gentile wise men—or, Magi, as some translations of the Bible use the transliteration—noticed something absolutely remarkable in the skies.

I don’t know whether lots of people notice the skies or the stars any more. At least, not here in the United States. At least, not here in this world of instant entertainment from any number of entertainment or electronic devices people can watch or hold in the palm of their hands.

What are people missing, in not paying attention to the skies and the stars? What are people missing, by not paying attention to this particular Star, the Star the wise men saw?    

The account from Matthew’s Gospel tells us about these scholars from the East—Gentile scholars, probably minor nobility, who devoted their lives to observing and studying the skies. A pastor and biblical historian, Chad Ashby, says “The term magi is the precise Greek word used in Matthew’s gospel. His story demonstrates that the Magi were astrologers and interpreters of omens—following a star and dreaming dreams.” [1] These studious activities of the wise men—activities we might today consider selective, esoteric, even a bit crackpot—were perfectly valid. At the time of the first century, these activities were universally recognized as important parts of serious study.

What I want us to focus on is the Star, the scholars’ special point of study. These scholars had access to a number of scholarly, historical and prophetic books and writings from many different places in the known world. After observing this fantastic Star in the skies, and consulting the learned books they had available, these scholars came to the conclusion that they needed to travel where the Star was telling them to go, or where the Star was leading them.

Where do we go when we are seeking, today? Do we follow a Star, on a spiritual journey? Do we have some learned writings telling us where to go?

As we finish up the Advent and Christmas seasons, we consider two special Christmas and Epiphany carols today. Today, we think of “The First Noel” and “We Three Kings.” These beloved traditional Christmas carols tell us much of what we now associate with the Nativity story. In fact, these two carols conflate the Nativity narrative of the angels and shepherds from Luke with the later account of the Epiphany journey of the wise men visiting the toddler Jesus. Thus, we have the mash-up of the angel and shepherds at the manger with the newborn Jesus, right alongside the three Kings offering their gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.

I could discuss the fact that the Gospel of Matthew never tells us how many scholars travel to see the young Jesus, but simply that they did bring gifts. Those gifts are identified as three, and I suppose somewhere along the line someone fabricated the idea that three gifts meant three gift-givers, and these scholars or minor nobility from the East transformed into kings. But, I am not going to dwell on that point. Because—it is not significant to our narrative.

What is significant is the response of King Herod. When Herod found out that the Gentile scholars wanted to see a newborn King, he was filled with great fear. The Gospel of Matthew specifically says so; and the majority of the people of Judea were very much afraid, as well.

What about us, today? Would we even begin to follow that Star, as the wise men did? Do we fear where or to what that Star could lead us? Are there new possibilities in our lives that await us? Are we afraid of what lies ahead? Are we afraid to find Jesus?

According to the historical record, King Herod was a narcissist and a highly polarizing politician, adept at lying and twisting the truth to get his own way. He was a hedonist who even had a series of wives, and was a chronic philanderer. (Comparisons have been made between Herod and current political leaders.) However, Herod’s two-faced request to these foreign-born nobility sounds mighty suspect to me, particularly since I was born and raised in Chicago, which has a pretty politically crooked reputation.

So, it’s not at all surprising to have duplicitous King Herod cozying up to these scholars and giving them a line. Moreover, he schemes to have the wise men gather information for him, and then come back to report. Is anyone else really creeped out by Herod’s two-faced behavior? Let me say that if you are, that is just as it should be. Herod is the really bad guy in this story, especially because he has all baby boys under two years old killed in the area surrounding Bethlehem. Just in case the newborn King of the Jews happened to be among them.

When you and I try to follow Jesus, are there things—or people—that seem like good ideas on the surface? But under closer examination, are we able to identify them as false and two-faced, or even twisted and hateful? Even though Herod was blustering and being his usual twisted, hateful self, the Star continued to shine. The Star continued to lead the wise men to the house in Bethlehem that contained the young boy Jesus, with Mary His mother.

We all know what happened when the scholars from the East met with Mary and the young Jesus. They bowed down, presented their gifts, and worshiped.

As Pastor Janet Hunt says, these wise men—however many they were—became convinced of their find. “Having felt the prodding of one particular star to take this incredible journey, when they came to the place to which the star led them, they were met there by God.  We know this could not have been at all what they expected — at least not God in the form and circumstance before them there…. Still, in that baby, they met the ‘Holy One,’ God’s Own Son. And all they were doing was what they believed they were made to do.” [2]

God was working in and through these scholars from the East, long before they followed the Star, long before they find Jesus. Is it possible that God could work through us, today?

God may want us to continue to follow that Star, to find Jesus in a new way today. We may realize that God was working in and through us, for years, Do we have some new adventure, new relationship or new direction where God is leading us, today?

We can take the opportunity and follow the Star, straight to Jesus, straight to the things—and people—where He wants us to get involved. Won’t you take the opportunity to be engaged and amazed, today? Why not take the opportunity to shine the light of that Star, the light of Jesus, in a dark world today?

Amen, alleluia.

[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2016/december/magi-wise-men-or-kings-its-complicated.html

[2] http://words.dancingwiththeword.com/2012/12/on-magi-and-journeys.html

“On Magi and Journeys,” the Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Two Building Blocks of Prayer

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Sunday, January 13, 2019

bricks drawing

Two Building Blocks of Prayer

I have found another book on prayer. In keeping with my ecumenical teaching and training, I’ve chosen a book by a Catholic priest, Father Timothy Gallagher, OMV. This book on prayer is subtitled “An Ignatian Guide to Praying with Scripture.”

I love Ignatian prayer. I love reading and pondering over Scripture. I am excited to begin reading this guide to prayer, using two of my familiar and favorite ways.

In the Introduction, Fr. Gallagher relates how he came to learn to pray. His first teacher was St. Francis de Sales. Through reading his Introduction to the Devout Life, and practicing the meditations outlined for beginners, Fr. Gallagher began learning the way of meditative prayer.

Next, Fr. Gallagher experienced the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and delved deeper into St. Ignatius’ counsels on prayer. Fr. Gallagher said, “When the retreat ended, I thought, ‘Someone has finally taught me to pray.’ … Ignatius’s clear and practical counsels opened for me, as for so many before me, a sure path of prayer.” [1]

In this slim guidebook to prayer, “Our focus will be the two basic Ignatian methods for prayer with Scripture: meditation, the reflective approach, and contemplation, the imaginative approach….Through different gateways, both lead to the heart.” [2] This book will assist me in striving to have a regular practice of prayer. Yet again.

I’ve spoken here about my ups and downs with a regular prayer practice, for decades. God and I have had many conversations about how I fail to pray regularly. At least in that I am consistent.

As I begin this new year in prayer, I will not use an unfamiliar way of praying, or a manner of prayer that is more challenging to me. No, I will fall back on two ways of praying that I really enjoy. Dear Lord, help me to be able to be more consistent in prayer to You. Thank You for Your patience and love extended to me, a fallible, imperfect, stumbling and stammering praying novice. For, that is exactly what I feel I am. Even though I have been praying for decades—more than forty years—I still feel woefully inadequate. I come to You with Fr. Gallagher’s book in hand, and allow this book to assist me to come before You in prayer, and in spirit and truth. It’s in Your dear name I pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Praying with Scripture, Timothy M. Gallagher, OVM (United States of America: Crossroad Publishing, 2008), 10.

[2] Ibid.

Prayer, and the Holy Family

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Sunday, December 30, 2018

Refugees - Jose, Maria y Jesus

Prayer, and the Holy Family

Yesterday, December 29th, was the Feast of the Holy Family—Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. I have become more aware of the feast days in the Church since I have been reading and praying with my Episcopal friends for a number of years, on www.dailyoffice.org. This is an online webpage and prayer site out of the Diocese of Indianapolis. It’s run by my friend and online Vicar Josh Thomas, and I have found my prayer life and liturgical appreciation growing by leaps and bounds. (I am sure that makes my Episcopal friends rejoice.)

Not only have I become even more aware of the movement of the liturgical year (which I was aware of before, only now even more so), I also have become familiar with several Catholic friends, through my chaplain connections and online friendships. Although I do not know Fr. James Martin, SJ, I am a devoted follower of his on Twitter. Not a single day goes by that I do not “like” or “retweet” one of his thoughtful, mindful posts; especially two of his posts, one from earlier this week, and the other today for the Feast of the #HolyFamily.

The first post is from December 26th, and runs as follows:

James Martin, SJ‏   @JamesMartinSJ Dec 26  “How sad that so many people are blaming the parents of migrant children for their deaths! Their parents are fleeing to a safer country precisely to protect their children. One might as well blame Mary and Joseph for fleeing to Egypt to protect their son Jesus (Mt 2:13-22).”

The other post ran yesterday, and was retweeted today:

James Martin, SJ‏ @JamesMartinSJ Dec 29  On the Feast of the #HolyFamily, let’s remember all members of the human family: the refugee, the migrant, the internally displaced person, the unborn child, the homeless person, the LGBT person, the incarcerated person, the person at the end of life. All are members of God’s family

Fr. Martin posted a number of other heart-breaking posts in the past few days, mentioning the Feast of the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28th, the death of children at the United States-Mexico border, and other continuing, horrifying injustices occurring here in what is known as a “Christian” country.

While I acknowledge that many hold different political points of view, I am also a mother. I am also a pastor and a former hospital chaplain. I have a heart that breaks regularly, seeing trauma, horror, heartbreak, fear and danger in so many places—including on the U.S.-Mexico border. Including among those incarcerated by agents of the U.S. Federal government for duly presenting themselves at the border as fleeing refugees. I cannot help but think that Jesus’s heart is breaking, too.

Dear Lord, gracious God, forgive us all, including those dear ones who are incarcerated. Help us—all of us, no matter where we were born—to come to You in spirit and in truth. You love everyone, no matter what country we came from, or from which side of the tracks we grew up. This is such a deep divide, and such a heavy burden. Help us come through these fiery trials and ford these rivers of sorrow. Thank You for Your presence, and Your promise that You will never forsake us. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

Prayer, and Christmas Legend

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas poinsettia

Prayer, and Christmas Legend

I enjoy hearing about the various legends and stories about Christmas that have been passed down from generation to generation. Some start out in one area or region, and then after years go by, they spread around the world.

The online Advent devotional calendar I’ve been reading these past weeks comes from Epiphany United Church of Christ in Chicago. I appreciate this entry, from Ginny, an older member of the congregation. She also loves legends and stories. She relates the legend of the poinsettia.

“It once was the custom in Mexico for the villagers to leave a gift for the Baby Jesus in their church on Christmas Eve. In one small village, a little boy who had no gift to bring prayed to God for a way to show his love for the infant king. God, full of mercy, looked down on the boy and answered his earnest prayer by causing a flower to bloom where he knelt — a flower so brilliant and fair. The miraculous flower was formed like a star with leaves that were red and so bright, and the boy’s precious gift has come to be known as the “flower of the holy night.“ (flor de la noche buena)” [1]

This was one legend I missed. I had known all my life that poinsettias were considered Christmas flowers, but had never known the story behind it. Now, I do. Lovely story for a lovely flower.

However, I have always been rather uncomfortable about giving gifts to the Baby Jesus. It’s not that He doesn’t deserve rich, sumptuous gifts—certainly He does! Certainly, He deserves all of our gratitude, obedience and love. Except, Jesus rules over the entire universe. What could we possibly give Jesus that He doesn’t have already?

This poinsettia legend reminds me a bit of the poem written by Christina Rosetti, published in the January 1872 edition of Scribner’s Magazine. Some might know it better as the lyrics for the Christmas hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter.” I memorized the last verse of this hymn almost fifty years ago, and it has been repeating itself in my head for the last week or two.

“What can I give Him, Poor as I am? —
If I were a Shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man I would do my part, —
Yet what I can I give Him, — Give my heart.”

I believe Miss Rosetti had it right: Jesus does not want rich gifts, or sumptuous gifts. Jesus wants me to give Him the best gift of all. “Give my heart.”

Dear Lord Jesus, as I await Your birthday celebration, almost here (!!), help me to give You my heart. Help me to give You my gratitude for salvation, obedience to Your commands and words, and love for Your indescribable gift. Thank You for Your love for me—for us. We bow before You in honor, worship and praise. And, say thank You. Thank You.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] (This devotional by “Ginny” Maddox appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 23rd edition of the online Advent calendar featured by Epiphany UCC Church, Chicago, Illinois.)

Prayer, In Advent

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Wednesday, December 19, 2018

o come Emmanuel

Prayer, In Advent

Advent lasts for quite a while. Almost a whole month. Why does Advent last for such a long time? Why can’t Christmas hurry up and arrive, already?

This waiting-period reminds me of one of the leading cast of characters in Advent preparations, John the Baptist. What does John the Baptist have to do with Christmas, anyhow?

John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, does not fit into your typical Nativity scene. Usually, in most drawings or figures of the Nativity, there are a usual cast of characters. Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, kings, animals, and a manger. John the Baptist just does not fit in here. Where does he fit? With his rough clothing, different kind of diet, and hollering about repentance, he will not easily fit onto a Christmas card, either.

Yet, John the Baptist is featured in the Advent readings, for several weeks. “But the schedule for children’s pageants and choir Sundays often allows us to avoid him, and it is understandable that few of us complain.” [1]  However, John the Baptist is a featured part of the whole reason and purpose behind Advent. Advent is all about repentance. And waiting.

True, the crowded calendar in December often provides little room for repentance and devotion that is strongly suggested for Advent. What gives with this hurry-scurry, rush-rush attitude which now seems to be part and parcel of the holidays? It’s either that, or an extra dose of guilt unloaded on those who are also trying to have Advent devotions on top of following a full calendar of holiday dates.

Dear Lord, help me steer through all of this extraneous stuff and find the expectation and anticipation of Advent. Lead me to discover anew the great worth and value of John the Baptist, and his important message of repentance. Thank You for Your patience and understanding for the many people who are striving to get closer to you—including me. It’s in the name of Jesus, God-with-us, we pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] (This devotional by the Rev. John Thomas appeared in the Wednesday, Dec. 19th edition of the online Advent calendar featured by Epiphany UCC Church, Chicago, Illinois. Advent 2018)

Prayer, Because Yes

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Saturday, December 8, 2018

hillside with fog - credit Rich Lewis Experiencing God wp

Prayer, Because Yes

Ever have an awful couple of weeks? I have. A loved one is seriously ill, and I need to travel out of state to the hospital. Yes, it is Advent. Yes, I am in one of the busiest times of the church year and of the calendar year. And yes, I am taking time out to go and see this dear loved one.

Sometimes, I need to give myself permission.

I am a member of a dear church some miles away from my house and from where I serve another church. This dear church has had an online Advent calendar each year. The Rev. Barb Bolsen submitted this marvelous poem to the church online Advent devotional. I appreciate so much these messages of encouragement and hope that come quietly into my email box early each morning. This was the one for today.

God Says Yes To Me – Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish and she said honey
She calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want
Thank God I said
And it is even okay if I don’t paragraph
My letters
Sweetcakes God said
Who knows where she picked that up
What I’m telling you is
Yes Yes

The magazine this poem was printed in, This Land (thislandpress.com), says Ms. Haught lives in Oklahoma. She lives in a small town, in a house older than the state itself.

I love the way Ms. Haught had such confidence in a loving, nurturing God. I appreciate that God talked back to this dear woman in the poem as she prayed, addressing her sass and questioning and inconsistency. (I know I have sass, questions, and inconsistency. Lots of all of them.) And sometimes, I just need to give myself the permission. Permission to pray, to go and visit a loved one, permission to say “yes.”

Dear loving God, thank You for Your nurture and love. Thank You for the promise You give in Jesus. Thank You for giving me—us—permission to be and to do and to love. Amen.

(The poem and this devotional originally appeared in the Equality Illinois “Seasons of Inclusion”)

@chaplaineliza 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

Prayer, with Open Hands

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Saturday, December 1, 2018

my heart saying a prayer

Prayer, with Open Hands

If ever I have wanted to learn to pray, Father Nouwen is an excellent teacher. His insights, his words, his example—all can lead me towards a warm, vibrant prayer life.

Take, for example, his latest definition of prayer. “Above all, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God’s promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world.” [1]

This reminds me so much of Fred Rogers. He, too, was a deeply spiritual man. Also an ordained minister, he was always striving to find ways to be more loving and open to his neighbors—which were everyone he met.

This makes me think. And I mean, really think. Do I open my hands to God’s promises? Do I find hope in God for myself, much less my neighbor or my world? Perhaps, if my neighbor closely resembles me. But, what if my neighbor does not look like me? What if they look different? Or speak a different language? Or wear different clothing? What if they were born halfway across the world? What then?

I truly do not think that mattered to Father Nouwen, and I don’t think that mattered to Fred Rogers, either.

“Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive.” [2]

I want to learn to pray more deeply, and more freely. I’m reminded of the old joke from New York City—“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice.” I know I have been in the schools of prayer for many years, but I still feel like a rank amateur. My prayer life ebbs and flows, and I feel more and less discouraged, accordingly. (So, I suppose I must feel encouraged sometimes. Apparently not right now, though.)

As I come to the end of this small book, I pray that I may take these lessons to heart.

Dear Lord, thank You for sincere, genuine people of faith like Father Nouwen and Mister Rogers. May I take them as examples for me—for my thoughts, speech and actions. May I find joy in You and in Your presence. And, may I lead others into Your joy, to experience your love, mercy and rest. Amen.

@chaplaineliza 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] With Open Hands: Bring Prayer into Your Life, Henri J. M. Nouwen (United States of America: Ave Maria Press, 2005), 121.

[2] Ibid, 122.