What star are you following as we begin this New Year? Today is Epiphany Sunday. The Gospel reading has Herod imploring the kings or magi to “go and search diligently for the child.” These men, foreigners and outsiders, were the ones who sought to pay homage to the Christ-child. They were the ones who were overjoyed by their discovery. They were the ones who had dreams that told them what to do. These were the ones who risked their lives ignoring Herod’s request to return to him. Dreams warned them to take another road.
In the First Reading from Isaiah 60, the nations shall arise and shine. The Light has come. Lift up your eyes and look around is the call and then you shall see and be radiant. Your heart shall thrill and rejoice. A mysterious they shall bring gold and frankincense. A multitude of camels is coming. This foreshadowing of the Gospel asks us to be Star-struck, to keep our eyes open for the signs. Psalm 72 confirms that all kings shall fall down before Him. No wonder, poor Herod, fearful of losing his power, was frightened. This had been foretold and now he had a choice to make. These difficult choices in life show our true character.
Like Herod we get frightened. Some days we lose sight of the Star we are following. We need reminders and companions. Yesterday, by chance, I happened across a funeral for a 99-year-old member of our parish. I am not sure I knew her–I was simply planning on attending the regular daily mass. However I could not help as I passed her coffin on the way up to the Eucharist but lay my hand on it and thank God for this good and faithful servant. Was this woman Star-struck?
After the funeral I met a friend and his son at the movie theatre to watch the final installment of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Here I watched with great interest the character development in the film. Each one was so different. In this great adventure, the journey to one’s deepest core is what captivates. Thorin, suffering from the dragon’s disease, forgets his true calling. He behaves somewhat like Herod initially, keeping his eyes on the ground–on his gold–and not on what was truly valuable in life. By the film’s end, Thandruil finds compassion. The Great Gandalf clearly keeps his eye on the Star, and is a Magi of sorts, guiding others, along the way. Bilbo Baggins, of course, is the one who not only keeps his eye on the Star, but sets out diligently and often puts his life at risk for the least of these. This outsider holds nothing back and is himself then a bright light to those around him. When Bilbo returns home, he is not the same as when he left. He carries in his heart and remembers everything that happened--the good, the bad, those who survived and those who did not. I am sure those Magi of long ago did the same when they returned home. How could they not have been changed after seeing that Star? Were they bright lights to those around them afterwards?
When we are Star-struck, we are forever changed. We cannot watch the events in Ferguson or DR Congo and not weep. We deeply long for peace in our world. We try to diligently search for the Child in all we do and sometimes like Thorin we stumble and make self-absorbed choices initially. If we are rooted in the Word and sacraments, we can find our way. We can always return by another road then the one we first chose. We can be overcome with joy in ways we never knew if we keep our eyes on that Star. Not many of us are called to risk limb and life for the greater good. We are all called though to walk on a good path and to be a light along the way to others who are struggling. May you find yourself looking up at the stars and wondering about your life. As this New Year begins, may you have no doubt about which Star you should follow.