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There is a star shining - John Bergen, January 3, 2021

Updated: Mar 4

The poet writes,


Now the knowledge

of your leaving

comes like a stone laid

over your heart,

the familiar path closed

and not even the solace

of a star

to guide your way.


You will set out in fear.

You will set out in dream.


But you will set out


by that other road

that lies in shadow

and in dark.


We cannot show you

the route that will

take you home;

that way is yours

and will be found

in the walking.


But we tell you,

you will wonder

at how the light you thought

you had left behind

goes with you,

spilling from

your empty hands,

shimmering beneath

your homeward feet,

illuminating the road

with every step

you take.


There are no adequate words on a Sunday like this. There are no adequate words when a young person, a child of our community, is taken from us. There is simply grief, a gaping wound that can consume simple meaning.


This morning we read the story of the Wise Ones visiting the Holy Family, in preparation for Epiphany on the 6th. We can guess at length about what it means that these Wise Ones come from “the East.” The East is the direction of the Sun rising. In many cultures, it is the direction of vision, of the future. For much of Christian history it represented wisdom, threat, the unknown, the mystical. Many Christians who lived and live now in land that is “east” of Palestine have found special connection with these early followers of Jesus. I find it interesting that these Strangers are identified with Wisdom, often seen as embodying the femme divine (and they come bringing jewelry and perfume). For Mary and Joseph’s community, it may have signified Babylon, a stronghold of Jewish wisdom and scholarship. It may simply have pointed to a land outside Roman Imperial control.


This week, I am struck that regardless of the symbolism of their place of origin, the WIse Ones come to Bethlehem. The two Gospels that tell birth stories take pains to place them away from the centers of power, in this tiny hilltown under military occupation. If the Wise Ones come from a vague and mythic “East,” they arrive at a very specific place: A people scarred by genocide and weary with grief, a farming village without city walls to protect it, a homeless couple with a child born out of wedlock.


One wonders if Mary and Joseph had discussions about the wisdom of bringing a child into their world, so filled with violence and loss. One wonders about their fears. One wonders if, amidst the exhaustion of caring for a newborn and trying to stay alive, they ever looked up to the sky and cried out in despair.


It is into this place that the Wise Ones arrive at the house where the family is staying and bow down in worship. I imagine them, looking very out-of-place and being startled by the confused faces of this desperate family.


Maybe Joseph asks them, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”


Maybe the Wise Ones respond, “We came here, this place, this place of deep despair, because we saw a light shining.”


Maybe Joseph (he’s so often out of the loop) shoots back, “What light? What are you talking about?”


And they reply, “You can’t see it from where you are, but there is a star shining over your house. When we saw it, we knew there is no holier place to be.”


And so they present gifts fit for an Emperor, they wrap this fragile child in perfume and gold, they surround him with blessings of power and protection, because they know that he will need it. Maybe they know these gifts and blessings will not be enough to keep at bay the violence of the world. But they are still overwhelmed with joy.


And then, they are gone. And Mary and Joseph and the tiny baby are left to face the world as it is. And as they flee down to Egypt, avoiding another wave of state-sanctioned violence in their hometown, they must carry with them not just gold and frankincense, but also a promise given through angels and dreams, confirmed by shepherds and Wise strangers from another place: You are not alone in this. There is something sacred happening here, and it’s bigger than you.


Ritual leader Francis Weller writes that there are five gates of grief, and that every experience of loss is a gateway into all grieving. The loss of someone we have loved opens up a space for our ancestral grief, for the parts of us that have not known love, for our unmet expectations, and for the sorrows of the world to raise their voices within us. All of our grief is connected, bound together in sacredness. Grief is a form of Communion, a gathering around the table to remember and lift up a broken and Divine body, a practice of holding in our hands both desolation and blessing.


There are not adequate words for this morning, for a first Sunday after the year that 2020 was, for a 2021 that does not promise easy joy. I will just offer these words to you, to all in this service for whom the doors of grief are open right now. If you don’t think this is for you, maybe it is especially for you.


You are not alone in this. There is something sacred happening here, and it’s bigger than you. May God’s Wisdom surround you with blessings of protection and strength, may you smell the sweet perfume of God’s love. Maybe you cannot see it from where you are sitting, but there is a sacred star shining over your house. And there is no holier place to be.




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