by Ryan Althaus
Ah yes…The guiding star of Bethlehem…every year we read of wise men, Evil Kings, Peaceful Sheppard’s, you know the drill. With all the thought given to these wise men (Magi in Greek, a word synonymous with magician, astrologer, etc) I felt a bit inadequate in my personal understanding of those distant pretty little twinkling lights in the nighttime sky; hence…Google!
Celestial bodies known as a “stars” to those unlearned (ungoogled) among us, are formed within an extended exuberantly dense molecular cloud of an interstellar medium (one less dense than our earthly vacuum chamber and consisting predominantly of Hydrogen coupled with 23-28% helium and a remainder of trace elements. The nebular configuration begins with a gravitationally unstable molecular cloud, due to triggering shockwaves of astronomically independent supernovas. Temperatures elevate to a state where the proto-stellar cloud reaches a hydrostatic equilibrium capable of nuclear fusion, in which a combination of radioactive and convective processes leave a luminous ball of plasma held together by its own inertia’s gravitational pull and visible due to the nebular core’s energy byproduct of the inner thermonuclear fusion process.
Okay so we are now Wise, bountiful in knowledge of the stars; however, we reach the next astronomical question of the “nebula of Bethlehem.” It moved?? Way back in elementary school I spent hours building candy solarsystems in which the gumball planets circle the starburst sun so I know that starbursts don’t move…gumballs and planets move…But what the hey, I’ll humor these so called Wise men, it is afterall the Bible.
Google again…Turns out that stars do move. The inertia of the celestial body is directly related to the radial velocity measured by the Doppler shift of Spectral lines marked by precise astronomic units of milla-ark seconds which can be figured in determining the parallax of a star given a certain velocity coupled with a max energy equivalence relationship (e=mc2) as a factor of stellar nucleo synthesis.
Unfortunately, as I am guessing is as well the case with all of you, my Goggling didn’t seem to draw me any closer to God, Jesus, or the holy spirit, it just occupied some very much needed final exam study time…and made me somewhat hungry (or maybe that’s just wisdom in my stomach feels like.) All and all I was disappointed to not be a better Christian due to my newly acquired stellar knowledge (pun intended). Though something did come from my new wisdom, something that will hopefully help in my relationship with God and my understanding of my personal faith, something that would give this annually read story some new light (pun again…you would think that they had a class in seminary where they teach us how to make bad jokes…but I just picked up on this poor sense of humor from sleeping, I mean sitting, through so many of Steve’s sermons.
Anyhow, we spend so much time questioning, investigating, googling that we often overlook the purpose of things while trying to find out the explanation or truth inside. We try to take the majestic out of our miracles. Matthew was not writing an astrology book, and the wise men were not wise because of their learned knowledge of the stars. They were wise because they saw a star as a message from God, a sign of hope, and they trusted their faith enough to not question the medium of the message but marvel in its beauty and meaning. Seek Christ…Seek salvation…Follow me…God often makes wise the simple or simple the wise. Acclaimed singer and professional beach bum, Jack Johnson, said it well. “There were so many fewer questions when Stars were just holes to heaven.” Sometimes the wisest thing one can do is to trust the plan that God has laid before us. The more time and energy we spend looking for concrete answers, the harder it becomes to see the path of faith…faith is not having, and not needing an earthly explanation. The path to Heaven and a full life is marked by God, possibly with stars, but nevertheless marked, and it is essentially our call whether we choose to follow that path of faith and trust. Sit back and enjoy the stars in your sky, it’s a small peak into the glory of heaven.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the sermon were that short and you could all go home and work on those new years resolutions while watching football. Tough Luck, if I had to sit through years of seemingly never-ending classes your going to get the brunt of it. Besides I didn’t get any COA care packages of Christmas cookies this year.
Christmas was so last week…Yes the baby Jesus was born in a manger. We celebrated, overate, slept, cleaned, took down the tree, and we will read the Bethlehem narrative again next year. But the gospel story isn’t simply about Jesus’ Birth, and the Gospel of Matthew is not a text transcribed and survived through thousands of years because it serves as a wholesome Christmas story. Brian Staffregen of Crossmarks Christian Publishing remarks that the text at hand raises two very important, all year long relevant, questions…”Where are the un-churched at today and what signs will speak to them?” The wise men followed the star to Jesus, the star was a sign telling them where they needed to go and how they needed to get there. Where or to whom are you being guided? There is an interesting distinction between a church goer and an apostle/disciple. The Sunday Christian is a believer, a follower, and without a doubt, Church fellowship and worship is an essential aspect of Christianity. Discipleship doesn’t stop with being a church member; to often we become satisfied in our knowledge that we are members of the body of Christ. We followed the star to Christ and now are content with our comfortable and safe position. An apostle certainly sees the value of Sunday worship. They are devote followers, usually routine church goers, they followed the star; However, When they found Jesus as the wise men did that night. they did not rest in complacency, they answered a call and now follow guidance to the “unchurched” .
When I came home this past summer, God blessed me with a special disciple in the week leading up to the unfortunately scheduled Sunday Annapolis ten miler. The stars, or my mom in this case, forced me to sears one evening. As I have never particularly enjoyed sears-shopping, I figured I would waste some time goofing off on the elliptical machines in the corner of the store. Soon enough an old man came up to me with a smile that could have lit the entire mall.
You a runner, the old man asked. “When I can”, I responded without realizing just whom was speaking to me. The man’s nametag gleamed just then, “jogging Joe” it read. For those of you who read the capital, Jogging Joe writes a column in the sports section about running, and has since I started reading the paper. I had spoken with Joe before on the phone back in high school but never had the pleasure to meet him personally. The next half hour was filled with laughter as we chatting like old friends, we joked about old stories, gossiped about runners we knew and then conversation touched on the growing separation between church and race (not ethnically speaking but racing). Joe had been dealing with editorials all month over Sunday scheduled races and was interested to hear that I was in seminary and still running. Joe’s voice sombered slightly. With some hesitation the now visibly torn man acknowledged being a Christian; however, confessed some guilt, fore he usually skips Church to cover races and/or run himself. (Though in his 80’s, Joe puts in Seven miles a day several times a week and as I much understand, Sunday morning can often be a choice between Church and that morning race).
At that moment, the bracelet on my wrist caught my eye…most likely because I was now looking down somewhat ashamed of the Sundays that I had missed. The Bracelet read “equipped for ministry” and I took it off and handed it to Joe. With that I told Joe that he was at Church whenever he was out living as a Christian, running with others with God in his mind. More than that, “Joe” I said “you’re a minister out there when you role model your Christian faith”, you just minister while running whereas some stand in a pulpit. I didn’t think it was possible but Joe’s smile returned even larger then when he first came up to talk.
Joe also works at a gym with a close running friend of mine and the next day my friend called to tell excited Joe was when he came in to the gym that morning. “He kept going around to everyone talking about God and the different ways that each of us can worship through all aspects of their life” “What in the world did you say to him Ryan?” (my friends still haven’t taken to the whole seminary bit completely anyhow)
I was speechless, left only with a smile as I pictured Joe on his Christian mission, a true apostle, a true Christian, a real minister. The next Monday, after the Annapolis 10 mile, I was truly honored to get a call from Joe stating that he was making me “runner of the week” for doing the race and making it in to church (though a bit smelly). This was an extraordinary compliment, made even more powerful in the days that followed.
The sun was coming up over the Severn River as it does on those late summer mornings in that ever so majestic way. Sweat fell as emotions rose. Somewhere mid-run a runner often loses the sense of physical misery and it is replaced with a mystical high. A time often where I find myself in a special relationship with God, when things are clear and love of the world and creation is unbridled. This was Joe’s final memory of this world. Joe went into Cardiac arrest that morning, feeling no pain he transitioned from a beautiful sunrise, doing what he loved, what he was proud of doing in an all new understanding, into a coma, and soon a journey to be with God. Joe passed up through one of those holes into heaven.
After more than 80 years of life, a large part of which Joe spent running, Joe spent his final morning on earth knowing inside his heart that he was a minister, he was reaching out to the others in need of a Christian friend, and addressing them in a way that they could relate. Joe spent his life loving everyone that he met. Encouraging others through running, but more so, demonstrating a compassionate Christian life. Joe didn’t follow the star and stop, Joe became a star, shining through his love for life and running as we all have our own unique way of shining, and that is the lesson that Joe accentuates in the Gospel of Matthews account of the Star of Bethlehem. A Sunday Christian is static, maybe devout, maybe a great Christian, but a simple follower. An apostle though is dynamic…a guiding star to others in their quest for Christ and life. Doing wise means following the stars and simply loving their beauty and message as they are gifts of God, But we must eventually become a star for others in our own unique way. We are ministers, we are apostles, and we will make a difference.
“To be a star you must shine your own light, follow your own path, and don’t worry about the darkness, for that is where the stars shine the brightest” (Oscar Wilde) God’s path, possibly astronomical, is unique for all of us as we are unique in our creation. Follow the path set out for you and in that you will be a guiding star enlightening the darkness for others. Shine on my friends…my brothers and sisters…my fellow apostles. As guiding stars to Christ, Shine on.