Where Did Your Star Stop? Matthew 2:1-12
"In the time of King Herod
after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking
'Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?
For we observed his star at its rising,
and have come to pay him homage?'"
This is a favorite Christmas story. Children love it because the Christ-child receives Christmas presents. Children love Christmas presents. Adults love the story for its familiarity and its exotic character –– we are familiar with the story, but wise men from the East are exotic –– as are their gifts of frankincense and myrrh. We all love seeing nativity sets with wise men and camels standing around admiring the baby Jesus. And we enjoy singing, "We Three Kings of Orient Are" –– even though we aren't really sure that there were three of them –– and we aren't really sure that they were kings. Matthew calls them magi –– wise men.
These wise men came to King Herod seeking "the child who has been born king of the Jews" (v. 2a). They told Herod that they had "observed his star at its rising, and (that they had) come to pay him homage" (v. 2b).
Their words were of great interest to King Herod, because he was paranoid –– afraid that someone would try to take his throne from him. It wouldn't have been that hard to do. Palace coups take place all the time. A quick stab with a dagger, and Israel would be looking for a new king. Herod had reason to be paranoid.
But these not-so-wise men didn't understand that they would trigger Herod's paranoia by saying that they had come to worship "the child who has been born king of the Jews." They didn't know that Herod had killed three of his sons so they couldn't plot against him.
No, these not-so-wise men had no idea that they would inspire panic in Herod's court. They thought that the future king they had come to worship was Herod's baby.
But Herod didn't have a baby ––and he had no idea what these men were talking about –– and he had no idea where to look for this "child who has been born king of the Jews." So Herod said:
"Go and search diligently for the child;
and when you have found him, bring me word
so that I may also go and pay him homage" (v. 8).
So the wise men set out to follow the star. They followed it "until it stopped over the place where the child was" (v. 9). What kind of place was that? It wasn't a stable. Matthew says it was a house (v. 11) –– most likely in Nazareth, the home of Joseph and Mary. Keep in mind that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because the emperor called for a census. Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, Joseph's home town, to be enrolled in that census (Luke 2). But the wise men came later, and Joseph and Mary had surely returned home by that time.
The wise men came to pay homage to "the child who has been born king of the Jews" (v. 2). They went first to Herod's palace, expecting to find the child there –– but the child wasn't in the palace. Then they followed the star –– probably expecting that they would find the child in another palace –– or at least in a grand home.
But Jesus wasn't in a palace. He wasn't in a grand home. He was in the home of Joseph, the carpenter. It was surely a modest home –– not at all what you would expect as the home of the future king. If we could construct an exact replica of that house, we could never get it approved for human habitation today. It had no electricity. The plumbing would never pass code. There was no tempered glass for the windows. The floor was probably dirt –– perhaps with straw as a carpet. It wasn't much of a house by our standards –– and it surely wasn't where the wise men expected to find Israel's future king.
When I studied this text from Matthew in preparation for this sermon, I wondered if the wise men were disappointed when the star stopped in its tracks. "Surely this can't be the place," they must have thought. But it was.
And then I began to think about us –– about the stars that we have followed –– and about the places where those stars have stopped. How often have we followed a star that we thought would stop over a palace –– only to have it come to rest above a modest house.
I thought about some of my retired friends. Many people look forward to retirement with great longing –– as in, "Won't it be wonderful when I can retire and we can have time to do all the fun things that we want to do." And most retired people are glad to be retired.
But I know some who retired only to find that their star had come to rest over a disappointingly modest home instead of a palace. Some start drinking. Others decide to go back to work.
I also thought about friends who started out in their 20s expecting to set the world on fire –– but at age 50 realized that their star would never come to rest over a palace.
I also thought about friends who have gotten divorces. They started their marriages with great expectations. They thought their marriage-star would come to rest over a palace, but that just never happened.
And it isn't just middle-aged or older people who experience disappointments. James Dobson says:
"I have observed that the vast majority of those
between 12 and 20 years of age
are bitterly disappointed
with who they are and what they represent.
In a world that worships superstars and miracle men,
they look in the mirror for signs of greatness,
but see only a terminal case of acne."
Even successful people have their moments. Robert Heilbroner was a successful economist. One of his books sold four million copies. But he said:
"It's great to have two cars and a swimming pool.
But there are disappointments.
After you've made some money and acquired some things,
and after the initial excitement has passed,
life goes on, just as bewildering as it always was,
and the great problems of life and death once again come to the fore.
We reemerge from our love affair with goods
and know that consumption isn't the answer,
and we ask ourselves what is."
So even people whose star comes to rest over an expensive home have problems.
So what can we do when our star disappoints us –– when it comes to rest over a less grand place than we feel we deserved? We can learn from the wise men –– the ones who came to see the Christ child. What did they do when their star came to rest over a modest home instead of a palace? They could have said, "This can't be the place." They could have decided to set out on their own to find the baby-king –– but they didn't. Matthew tells us how they responded. Listen:
"When they saw that the star had stopped,
they were overwhelmed with joy."
They understood that God was directing them, and they were willing to assume that God knew what he was doing. When the star stopped –– even though over a humble abode –– they knew they were in the right place –– and they were joyful. They were joyful, because they trusted God to lead them rightly.
If your star didn't come to rest over a palace, take a close look at the place where it did come to rest. There might be a great deal of joy awaiting you there –– even if it isn't where you set out to go. There might be a great deal of joy awaiting you there –– if you are willing to embrace it.
William Merrit Lancaster wrote an article a few years ago in which he reflected on his disappointing youth –– and his father's common-sense response. Listen:
"As a semipro baseball player,
my father had a wicked curve ball
and enough dash in the outfield
to earn the nickname 'Speed.'
My nickname was 'Sloth'
and I couldn't even make my high-school junior varsity team.
"'Some people just aren't cut out for athletics,'
my father said without a trace of disappointment
when I told him about the bungled tryout.
'You know, a lot of guys who didn't make it in sports
ended up writing about it.'
"Like most muscle-headed teens,
I had no clue what to do with my life.
But my father's common-sense wisdom somehow seemed right.
I enrolled in a journalism class the next semester
and found my calling."
If your star didn't come to rest over a palace, look for joy in the place where it did stop.
The wise men entered the house where the star stopped. Then they knelt before the Christ-child and worshiped him. Then they offered him gifts –– and they were overwhelmed with joy.
We can learn from that. We, too, can kneel before Christ and give him what we have. When we do that, he will bless us. He will give us joy.
For those who love Christ, the star doesn't always lead to a palace. It does lead, however, to a place where we can love God and neighbor –– where we can serve God and neighbor. And in the midst of that loving and serving, God will give us joy. Amen.
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