Scripture: Numbers 24:17-19; Matthew 2:1-12
We’ve just ended a season where I am sure many of you went on a road trip. From talking with you or seeing Facebook posts, I KNOW there were trips to NC, MD, PA, and many other stops.
If you’re traveling with someone, it’s good to know their travel style. I’d like to think I’m an easy-going, who cares when we stop type of person, but I know myself better. It probably has a lot to do with the kind of road trip...if it’s just for sight-seeing or if there is an exact destination in mind. For the trip to Charlotte, NC, I know that cops stake out the road in Emporia, it takes 2.5 hours to get to South Hill before getting on the interstate, and that NC Exit 150 in Haw River has a great fuel & restroom stop.
Fun facts: According to a 2019 survey by QuakerState, for families traveling in the summer months on road trips, they will experience 19 bouts of hunger, 18 “how much longer,” 17 “I’m tired,” and 16 “are we there yet?” (
Also, according to this survey, the main reasons for road trips are that they are budget-friendly and they provide quality time (with music shared, books on tape (or podcasts), and road trip games). The survey didn’t mention what the main cause for disagreements was on road trips, but I’m going to guess either stopping for gas/food or which direction to go. The great GPS, Waze, or paper map debate.
Regarding road trips: Ever wonder how the three wise men traveled together on their road trip? This was pre-GPS! They were following a star in the sky - they knew which direction they were going for sure - but did they argue over which path to take or where to stop or who was setting up the tents for the night? Can you imagine just using a star in the sky for directions? Can you imagine the “discussions” that would take place in the car over that one?
Our Matthew reading today reminds us that we are still in Christmastide - it technically ends tomorrow with Epiphany, which we are celebrating collectively today. It is the story of the wise men traveling to see the baby Jesus. It is the time when Jesus, the baby, is revealed as the Christ.
On the way to this revealing of Jesus as Christ, the wisemen teach us a lot about journeying, as they were on their own road trip.
First, they teach us that we don’t have to know it all when we set out. Charles Cousar states that, while these wisemen are “sincere and persistent” in their search, they aren’t 100% “wise.” "Almost naive, they seem to anticipate no difficulty in inquiring of Herod the king about the birth of a rival king" (Texts for Preaching Year C). As wise as they were to know that they needed to follow the star to find the “child who has been born king of the Jews,” do we think it occurred to them that would be a threatening message to King Herod? Perhaps they were naive, perhaps they were simply hopeful Herod would jump on board. Either way, they certainly didn’t anticipate all that they encountered.
Along the lines of not knowing it all, note how the Matthew account shows that the wise men follow the star to one location and then are redirected to another location. One scholar suggests that they found the star, lost the star, and then found it again. Whatever the case, they followed the star to Jerusalem, where they encountered Herod, then followed the star to Bethlehem, which has been approximated to be 5 or so miles apart. I don’t think they were ever really “lost,” but their path was certainly not a direct, point A to point B, journey.
I don’t know about you, but that is so comforting to hear. Especially as an adult who has not been in the same career field since graduating college, it’s nice to hear that even on the journey to finding the Christ child, these divinely-inspired followers didn’t take the shortest, most direct path. If that is the case for the three wise men, certainly it will be the case for some of us today.
For those of you who like road trips with side trips, this probably sounds great to you. For those of you who like to make a plan and forge ahead, this probably sounds unpleasant and uncomfortable. Yet, such is life. It’s simply important that we stay focused on the end goal along the way - be it curvy or straight.
Second, the wisemen’s story teaches us to use all of our resources. Kathyrn Matthews points out how these wisemen used not only sacred text (Hebrew Scripture), but also used nature (in the stars) and their inner selves (their wisdom, common sense, gut feeling). All three of these factors led them to the revealing of Jesus as the Christ.
We can be biblical scholars and know the ins and outs of which verse says what in reference to whichever Greek root word, but if we don’t listen to our wisdom (the Holy Spirit) that knowledge will fall flat. Many of you, I’m sure, are already saying the words of 1 Corinthians 13:1 in your mind… “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have not love, I am but a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.” In a similar vein, “if I have all the biblical facts memorized and do not listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudgings, then I will certainly be lost along the way.” And nobody needs that.
As we journey along in life, it’s important that we balance out all of our resources - Scripture, inner yearnings, nature, friends, experiences, etc.
Today, Epiphany, is a time for us to reflect on what it means for Jesus to be revealed afresh to us as the Christ. Just as the wise men were guided by a star, and just as the prophet Balaam spoke in Numbers of a “star rising from Jacob” to lead the nation Israel, we can reflect on how we are guided by the light of Jesus’ life in each of us.
How do we let our faith guide us in the great road trip of life? How do we let our experiences, our inner yearnings guide us - acknowledging that we don’t know it all yet? (Even those here who are more “seasoned” don’t know it all yet.)
You may have heard of an activity normally done around the New Year: choosing a word for the year. I know some of you have done this; you’ve chosen “hope” or “kindness” or “focus.” The idea is that, throughout the year, you return to that word, reflecting on how you can incorporate it into your life and how you can let it guide you.
Today, we have star words. The star is representing the star that the wisemen followed - reminding us to be guided, as well, by the Holy Spirit, nature, and knowledge. During communion, as you come forward, I encourage you to choose a star word from the baskets. Every star word is different.
Now, this is one of those micro-level theological moments where many of you will 100% trust that the word you choose is divinely meant for you. Others of you will simply take a star to try not to hurt my feelings for planning this in worship. I get it - that’s fine.
I do believe in the power, though, of having a direction toward which to focus, especially when that focus directs us toward a more Christ-filled life. We may get detoured through Jerusalem to get to Bethlehem, but having that end goal/focus still propels you in one direction and keeps you moving forward.
So, I encourage you to take a word. It may not mean much to you now; it may mean much more 6 months down the line. And (shameless plug) I encourage you to bring that star word with you to next week’s vision board workshop. After worship, it’ll be an opportunity to reflect on what that word may mean for you in the upcoming year.
Just as the wisemen were compelled from within to search out the Christ-child, I hope we are also compelled from within to search out the Holy Spirit’s direction in our own lives - being humble enough to know that we don’t know it all and that’s ok.