Matthew 2:1-12
Rev. Rebecca M Heilman-Campbell

It’s hard for me to not compare the two birth narratives in our Scripture.
One in Luke and one in Matthew. Often during the advent and Christmas Season,
we focus on the Luke passages. They are much more dynamic, active, they pull
you into the character’s feelings. You actually read Mary’s thoughts and reaction
to learning she’ll be the mother of God. There are songs and there is silence.
There are strong reactions and tense moments. There are tears and laughter and

Matthew is a different birth story. It starts beautifully with a genealogy that
carries more meaning than you might realize. It invites the lost, the lonely, the
outcasts, the gentiles, those who are different into our story. Then we hear about
the birth of Jesus. It’s all very quick. Nothing is drawn out. Joseph becomes the
center of story, where in Luke, it’s Mary. We don’t hear about the shepherds in the
field watching over their flock by night nor the angels singing glory to god in the
highest. None of that is Matthew. It’s short and sweet. But what we do get, that
we don’t get in Luke, is a story of kings and magi, power and fear, escaping
dangers and even death. We also get a different type of character, characters I
tend to love in stories, characters that don’t talk, but play an initial role in the
story. Like the bullet in the Broadway production of Hamilton or the color purple
in the book, the Color Purple or the ring in Lord of the Rings. They all carry power
and purpose. And in our story today, it’s the star, shining a path for the magi that
leads them to Jesus.

This star is a powerful character in our story today. It’s not just an
astrological phenomenon, for the people in our passage, it carries a greater
meaning. It’s notable for both Jews and Gentiles during this time. As one
theologian writes, “For pagans, an astrological phenomenon was often
associated with the birth of a new ruler. For Jews, the star fulfills the biblical
promise voiced by a Mesopotamian seer, that ‘a star shall come out of Jacob.’”1

The star carries a promise for both groups of people. And so this star character is
not just a sign, but a promise for all people. A new promise that all are invited
into presence of the new king and the new kingdom on earth. But what makes
our Matthew story so interesting is that another character is introduced – King
Herod. Oh I wish I had the children’s book in my hands written about this story by
Barbara Brown Taylor. The illustrator hit the nail on the head of painting a
grotesque, lazy, evil, maniacal looking King Herod. King Herod, also known as
Herod the Great was powerful, a violent king. While he allowed the Jews to
worship freely and he renovated the temple for their use, he was also military
minded, brutal, ruthless, a man to fear. He represented the Roman empire, an
empire Jesus, and his promise, was up against until the day he died. And so,
while other people view the star as a promise, to King Herod, it is something to
fear. Who might take his power? Who is this new king? It brings him great
anxiety. And so he calls the magi to try and find this new king. As Scripture says,
after the Magi left Herod’s side, “they went; and look, the star they had seen in
the east went ahead of them.” The question stands, if the Magi were following
the star from the beginning, why did the star take them first to Jerusalem and
then to Bethlehem? Why that extra, political, even dangerous trip to King Herod?
Martin Luther answers this question with, “Because God wanted to teach us that
we should follow the Scripture and not our own murky ideas.”2 As a presbyterian
and a modern-day pastor, I would add, because God wants us to be led by the
Holy Spirit and into the light.

Barbara Brown Taylor’s children’s book, that I just mentioned, titled Home
By Another Way, depicts the star in the eyes of the people. The people were
drawn to the gleaming, powerful light of that star. It was in their eyes. There was
nothing else they could see. They couldn’t help it. It illuminated a path to
Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem. A path straight to Jesus, the new King of kings
and Lord of lords. And so it begs another question for us today, what draws you to the light? What draws you to Jesus? For some that might be an easy answer –
the hope of a promise, because my mom says I should be here. Maybe it’s the
story itself that brings challenges and grace. Maybe it’s the love that comes with a
church community or the outreach we are called to do. Or maybe it’s just the
friendly faces and kind words and caring hearts.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon, some of our characters are passive
in this Matthew story. The story is circling around them and they don’t have role
or a decision to what happens. And I say that because we’ve all experienced that
utterly passive place as well. That place where we might feel stuck, exhausted,
overwhelmed by life. Goodness knows it comes when we are in grief, when we
are the primary caregiver to our spouse or to our children, when a job is no
longer fulfilling a purpose, when money is tight and yet needs are heavy, when a
diagnosis lingers over our heads, or when that addiction gets the best of us.
Goodness knows, we may not have an answer to why we are here or drawn to the
light. We just are, we’re just here, we’re here because it helps somehow,
someway. And that’s okay. That’s enough. That’s the promise of this story.
Whether we’re moving or are stuck, there’s aways a light, a star that leads the
There is a newer tradition popping up through out denominations. Maybe
you’ve heard of it or practiced it. The tradition of Epiphany star words, not Stars
Wars, but star words. It’s a spiritual practice where you receive a random word
written on a star shaped paper and you allow that word to guide you, lead you
closer to your inner self, your community and to God. It’s a word to focus on in
this year, to pray upon, to hold close and reflect on how the Spirit might be
speaking to you in your life. To help you become unstuck or to lead you to new
gifts. We will have star words available for you when you come forward for
Communion this morning and I hope you will take the word, even if you are little
disgruntled by this new practice. It can’t hurt you! You are welcome to exchange a
word that you may not be feeling, but I encourage you to trust that word.

A pastor in New York received the word, “show” in January of 2020, right
before the pandemic. She thought to herself, “ugh, what a dumb word.” She
hung it in her office to see everyday. When the pandemic hit, she had to move
everything home, build her at home worship space to stream online. After a few
months, she went back into the office, saw that word and realized that word was
what led her through those past few months and would lead her throughout the
pandemic. She had to show worship online, show Sunday School online, show the
people that there are other ways to worship and still be in community. It felt like a
dumb word at first, but later allowed her to embrace what had to be done that
year and half. And so allow the light of this story, of the Scriptures, of Jesus
Christ, King of kings, Lord of lords to be in your eyes, whether it’s gleaming bright
or faded in the distance. May it lead us towards each other, towards a promise, a
hope, a new life, and God, a God who embraces and leads us whether we’re
moving and shaking or stuck and wandering in the weeds. May the light lead us.
May be in our eyes.

1 Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship (p. 158). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
Kindle Edition.

2 Martin Luther, “Herod,” in Martin Luther’s Christmas Book, ed. by Roland H. Bainton. P52For others, that answer for what draws you to Jesus may not be as clear.