The Sign of a Star
New Year begins with the Epiphany story of a journey into new experience and new perspective. The Wise Men meet the infant Christ and return home by another way. How does the new experience and the new perspective we receive from our encounter with Jesus work? How do we know the route of the journey such an encounter involves?
Our world is focussed upon relationships – their quality and their maintenance: for individual flourishing and for international peace. The reaction to every disturbance in relationship is therapeutic – what can we and others do to best remedy the dis-ease and establish harmony. In spiritual terms we work at our relationship with God.
This is one lens through which we can examine the Epiphany story. People from a different culture are led by the star to encounter Jesus in Bethlehem. They offer their gifts to acknowledge relationship and are inspired by this worship to return home by a new way. Relationship made, blessed, direction giving. Here is a model for Christian living and much evangelism. We try to guide people to encounter Jesus and form a relationship, a bond through worship. It works well for many, and begins a journey of self-discipline.
But life, even Christian life, never runs smoothly. Temptation, failure, suffering, darkness, terror, remain part of the mix. Often our response is to seek closer relationship. But the story of the Epiphany has another lesson for us. The key was the star – distant, mysterious, beyond the bounds of human therapy. To acknowledge the star, just as the shepherds acknowledged the angels, or Jesus calls to His Father, is to acknowledge the distance between earth and the stars, between myself and others, between cultures, between experiences and perspectives that form the ingredients of relationships.
When we trust the star, as we trust the Father, as we trust the Christ, we cannot simply assess, analyse and act in terms of relationship (therapy) – the distance and disconnect is too great. Rather, as we trust the star, the Father, the Christ, we need that element of watching, wondering, walking where we are called. Not the security of an apparently steady relationship – the spiritual template that so many find impossible and incredible. Instead, there is a call to the faithful following without knowing too much about the next steps; and owning that much is out of our own hands. An ‘unknowing’ that trusts the light to lead us in a kindly way, amidst the terrors of Herod – like persecution and violence, and the resulting migration crisis which engulfed the Holy Family.
Mission owns the richness of relationship with Jesus, but also the riskiness of having to wait, seek guidance, negotiate with the anti-Christ forces, and find a way through difficulties as well as blessings. Relationships can benefit from therapy, our own improved performance. But, there is need for more - spiritual relationship requires waiting for a simple gift of grace: A star silent but signalling to any small group of faithful seekers. Surely a richer model for churches today.
For a New Year may we give thanks for connection and relationship, but learn to look further, to the mystery of light in the darkness – sheer gift and grace, for new experiences and new perspectives.