Reflection for Sunday – January 7, 2024
Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2: 1-12
Preacher: Sonja Livingston
Last year, my husband convinced me to go to Mendon Ponds to see the Geminids, the strongest meteor shower of the year. To see the stars, we’d need to drive out late at night, in the cold and dark of mid-December. I’m fairly certain I grumbled while finding mittens and zipping myself into a thick coat. Who leaves the comfort of home, I thought, to go out and stare at the sky? Still, I’ve learned to trust Jim’s instincts over the years, so I went along, bone cold and shivering, scanning the sky but seeing nothing for the first 10 minutes.
Finally, I stilled myself and really looked up and into the sky. The dark swath was broken by pinpoints of light. A star shot by sideways, over the treetops and into the woods. Another fell overhead. I reached into my pocket and played Conditor Alme Siderum on my phone. Suddenly, in an ordinary field on an ordinary night, we were buoyed by goodness and light. That scene reminds of the line from today’s gospel reading when the wise men, who’d been seeking the newborn king, successfully tracked the star to Jesus and, rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
Matthew goes on to describe how, upon finding the child, the wise men fell down and adored him, then offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Father Bob Werth likes to say that Jesus keeps being born into the world, offering himself again and again every year. Likewise, the wise men keep following the star to Him and continue bestowing their gifts each and every January 6th. Their gifts to us differ from their offerings to Jesus, but are great treasures, nonetheless.
The first gift the wise men offer is an example of beholding. On the surface, beholding seems straightforward enough and a synonym for seeing. In fact, beholding is quite different. It implies reverence on the part of the seer, which, in turn, suggests that what is seen is wondrous. What separates beholding from run-of-the-mill seeing is the beholder’s recognition of the wonder in front of him and his corresponding response of awe. How many others saw a star shining in the east but looked away after a cursory glance? The Magi not only saw the star but recognized it as extraordinary and kept their eyes trained on it.
This reminds me of the saying, what you focus on, grows. When we overdose on the news, anxiety and despair may grow. If we start each day by scrolling through social media and noticing how little we vacation compared to our friends, a sense of fear, envy and isolation may take hold. The wise men remind us that we can choose the images coming into our eyes. Look into the waitress’s face at breakfast, and we immediately feel more connected. Start each day by stepping outside and looking at the tall pines across the street and the entire day becomes more expansive. Beholding isn’t about avoiding the hard stuff or burying our heads in the sand about the very real troubles of this world. It’s about deciding to tune into the grandeur of God.
But the Magi weren’t merely beholders. We tend to focus on their arrival in Bethlehem, but most of their time was actually spent getting there. After seeing the extraordinary star, these men of great learning and presumably comfortable lives, completely re-ordered their lives to keep the star in view.
The second gift the Magi offer is the example of leaving our comfort zones and journeying through strange lands, withstanding fear and doubt, but always seeking the light and moving closer to Jesus.
Though the stars my husband and I saw last winter didn’t lead us to Bethlehem, standing together beholding them connected us to God. It was a wondrous experience, and one I’d never have experienced if I didn’t have someone to push me out of my comfort zone.
What luck that the feast of Epiphany comes so close to New Year’s, when the slate is clean, our hope is renewed, and we resolve to become even better versions of ourselves. It’s a time of excitement and promise and the Magi remind us to look at the areas of our lives where we’ve grown too comfortable for our own good, and to keep our gaze fixed on sources of goodness and light. They are the perfect companions as we journey into 2024 and embark on a closer relationship with God.