Updated: Jan 8
Pastor Will Rose's sermon for Sunday January 5, 2020
The 12th Day of Christmas AND the Epiphany (January 6th)
Read Matthew 2:1-12
(In the name of the Father, +Son, and Holy Spirit)
Now, I know there is a STAR in our gospel lesson, and it appears there is a small band of rebels who resist against an Empire by “going home by another road”…
But, I’m not going to do a deep dive on Star Wars today.
(I plan to be on a few podcasts in the near future to talk about that, stay tuned)
I do want to do go down the road of Faith and Science.
Let me take you back a little bit.
Around 4 years ago, long time Holy Trinity member and Professor Emeritus of Physics at Duke, Dr. Al Goshaw, heard an interview with Jesuit Brother and Astronomer Guy Consolmagno on the NPR Podcast “On Being” LINK>>> where he talked about the questions at the crossroads of Faith and Science in Brother Guy’s book, Would you baptize and Extraterrestrial?
Al, shared this interview and book with me and other members of our congregation and we thought it would be a good book- study to do here at Holy Trinity.
This book indeed inspired us to go deeper into the topic of Faith and Science that eventually lead us to receive a grant from Fuller Seminary and their STEAM (Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries) Project to explore and break down the myth that one must pick one OR the other.
Must one choose Faith OR Science?
Or perhaps, there are plenty of scientists and people of faith, (and people of faith who are scientists) who believe that it can be Faith AND Science working together to explore the mysteries of life and our existence in this cosmos. So we sought to build upon what others have done in creating a healthier conversation between the work of faith and the work of science and bring to light the many, many resources out there that contribute to a healthy conversation between the two. And we plan to keep this conversation going in 2020 and in the years ahead.
(Check out these websites we've created or are a part of to keep the conversation and growth going!)
In preparing for today reflecting on Christmas, Epiphany and today’s gospel lesson from Matthew, I was drawn again to Chapter 4 in Would You Baptize and Extraterrestrial, “What was the Star of Bethlehem?” Brother Guy shares that since they oversee the Vatican’s Observatory, and looks at stars and the cosmos all the time, this is one of the top email’s and questions they get on a daily basis. He and his colleague at the Vatican Observatory, Father Paul Mueller share that this short story in the gospel of Matthew is a great icon of the dialogue between faith and science because it has elements of both.
In this chapter they lift up the important questions of…
Was it really a star?
Was it a miracle, or some natural phenomena? Or both?
And more importantly, why did Matthew choose to place this story in his story about Jesus?
They share that the top candidates for what the star of Bethlehem could be, are…
Could it be star that went Supernova, that is a star that gets super bright right before it explodes? These events can even be seen during the daytime, but they are super rare…
But stars tend to be orderly and predictable and their evidence can be traced and examined 1000s of years after and event like this takes place. So most astronomers, including Brother Guy and Father Paul rule one this one out.
Well maybe it was a Comet? They share that Comets are very predictable and find-able as well, it’s easy to find their evidence. We know when and where they are coming from, so it was most likely not a comet.
But what about an unusual configuration or alignment of planets that when stacked near each other they look like a bright star? This could be the case, this is a strong candidate for the Star of Bethlehem. Kepler even noted that in 7 BC Jupiter and Saturn aligned with each other that made a pretty bright light in the sky that a lot of people noticed.
But the question still lingers…
Why were the Magi/Wise Men the only ones who noticed it?
Brother Guy likes the theory that connects the Magi with the “Star”. (A theory Brother Guy mentions in the book from Michael Molnar) You see the Magi were not necessarily “we three kings from orient are”, they were pagan astrologers who studied the stars so they could make predictions (horoscopes) for Kings and rulers. They were the ones looking at the stars and the configurations of the planets and doing their best to make meaning, and a vocation, from those alignments.
It was widely known that Caesar Augustus claimed that a certain planetary alignment with the sun predicted and confirmed his royalty. So around the time of Jesus birth (give or take a few years, we don’t really know the exact time and date Jesus was born, the Church set the celebration around the Winter Solstice to make a point that Jesus is the light of the world)…there was a particular configuration and alignment of planets; Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn all had this particular alignment with the sun at the time of a new moon. Interestingly very similar to Caesar Augustus’ claim.
And an alignment that wise men, or magi, would have noticed.
Matthew most likely would have known Augustus’ claim and could have said,
“well guess what, we can make that claim about Jesus too.”
Is this 12 verse story, only found in the gospel of Matthew, a scientifically provable story, OR, a theological point Matthew wanted to make for his audience and readers?
Does it have to be either, or?
Maybe it was a configuration of planets, or some object in space that shined a great light just at the right time… (Just in the last few years we have seen random big space rocks fly near by from outside our solar system)
But whether the “star” can be scientifically proven or not, here’s the radical move Matthew makes by hanging a star in the sky and bringing the Magi into Jesus’ story.
The first people in the gospel of Matthew who recognize Jesus for who he is were pagan foreigners who used astrology to find him.
Horoscopes and Astrology is frowned upon in the Hebrew scriptures and in Jewish culture because its seen as breaking the first commandment…
(The Hebrews believe this and we agree with them!)
The stars do not control or direct our destiny, only God does.
And yet, in this “so strange it just might be true” story, Matthew sets up the premise that perhaps God moved and revealed what the Divine was up to through the tools the Magi worked with to share with his readers and congregation that Jesus is Lord and King, not just of Israel, but for all nations and all people.
People then and now (myself included!), look to the stars to be inspired for hope and to wonder about signs of life. God knows this. The common ground of faith and science is the human ability of wonder and awe and searching out meaning and purpose. I believe God uses this all the time to reach out to us to let us know there is a bigger story we are a part of.
Advent is a time when we wait and long for a savior.At Christmas we celebrate the gift that God is with us, in the flesh and blood and breath of Jesus born in Bethlehem.
Epiphany is a time when God shines a spotlight on Jesus and reveals to us what kind of savoir and king this Messiah is.
And so I know it’s a scary time right now.
All of my social media feeds on New Years Eve was like,
“Oh yea! 2020 ya’ll, this year is going to be awesome!”
And then, 2 days later…
Australia is on fire (and it has been for a while)
And then with new renewed conflicts in the Middle East and with Iran (not far from where the Magi most likely were from)… the record needle scratches to a stop,
“Uh oh, party over.”
And so what is our posture to be in all this? Panic?
Set the Doomsday Clock?
Declare World War 3 on twitter?
Or can we take the posture of the Magi?
The Magi, who look to the heavens and with an awe inspired vision of the stars and the cosmos and then come to understand that there is something larger and a grander story of love and grace we are a part of.
The Magi, who go outside their comfort zone and territory, and search and seek out the Messiah, the Christ, a new and different kind of King and Lord. Not listening to the powers that be with their political self-serving agendas but rather once they encounter the Christ they travel a different road than what people expect.
Perhaps our posture can be that we love even harder, and like the Magi we bear and give our gifts to a world that is hurting…
by continuing to pray for, and work for, peace…
by putting into practice what we sing in the liturgy, “that we live out our impassioned response to the hungry and the poor, that we live out truth and justice and grace.”
In this new year, in this new liturgical season…
What is God revealing to us? Where is God showing up in the unlikely places?
Where can we, as a congregation, and where you practice your discipleship, create better and healthier, and life giving conversations in the areas we inhabit.
Wow do I love this story from Matthew!
And I love that verse, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”
A different road.
When we encounter the Christ perhaps we are called to walk a different road.
Christ is the ultimate epiphany of God’s love and grace for ALL and this is the road we travel and journey down today and in the days ahead of us.