January 4, 2015
Church of Peace, United Church of Christ
Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield
Introduction to the Scripture: The Place Where the Star Stops and the Baby Cries
When I was in high school, my family moved to a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania. This is the kind of town where everybody is related to everybody else some way or another. Here the people hold an affectionate commitment to their Pennsylvania German heritage, a clear division between insiders and outsiders, a love of beauty, a shared sense of humor and shame. Here my high school friends would joke lovingly about what they called the Valley Curse. The Valley Curse means that if you were born in the valley, one day, you will come back and settle here again. If you were born in the Upper Perkiomen Valley, you will die in the Upper Perkiomen Valley, so goes the curse.
About nine years after I graduated from high school, I did the thing that many of us do. I joined facebook and started to reconnect with my high school classmates. It was fascinating to discover that we were pretty evenly divided. Some of my friends had stayed in the valley or quickly returned. They were getting married, having children, one worked in the fire department, one worked for the local newspaper, a few were teachers.
On the other hand, some of my friends couldn’t wait to get out! One woman taught school in Harlem and then Paris, one was going to rabbinical school in New York, one was entering the Air Force, one was doing an internship with the National Institute of Health on her way to medical school.
Seven or eight years ago, I would have told you there were two groups: the ones who stayed and the ones who left, some who gave their lives to their families and some who gave their lives to traveling and far away careers. In my twenties, I thought you had to choose one path or the other.
Now that we’re in our thirties, I see this division is not holding up very well. The ones who stayed near the valley don’t just post baby pictures on facebook. These days they’re advocating for social causes and sharing articles about issues from around the world. And as you might guess, the ones who left are now starting to post baby pictures and happy “remember when we did this” memories from high school.
So maybe it’s like this: We human people have dreams for the world. They make us get out of bed, leave our homes and our people, and go to faraway places to do incredible work. We human people have dreams for own lives right here. They make us get out of bed, deepen our roots, and stay here to do incredible work. And it’s not just that either path is good; it’s better than that. It’s that we get to have both dreams. We get to do both. Even now. Even if we’ve tried to give up on dreaming altogether…
Because you don’t have to think up a dream out of nothing, you only have to see it one day, then not be afraid to see that you’ve seen it. Of course, the risk is great. Seeing a dream in the sky and coming to terms with it at your kitchen table, this is how the world gets changed and our own lives too.
The scripture we’re about to hear is a familiar story. You’ll notice we are not asked to choose between taking care of things at home or traveling to far away places, the heroes in our story do both. Instead, what happens in this story is we hear an invitation to seek out the exact, exquisite point of intersection between our wild dreams in the sky and our practical needs right here. Let all the universe summon the satellites so we might come and stand right in the spot where the star stops and the baby cries.
To begin with, our story today is set down right in the middle of terror and violence. Herod is king. On this night, he gets approached by the wise men who were priests from the Zoroastrian religion, experts at studying the stars and interpreting their meaning. They have come to the palace because they saw the star rising for the king of the Jews. But this king is not at the palace, and when they come asking Herod, he becomes terrified. And all Jerusalem with him. He plans to find this baby and have him killed, and when this plan falls through, we remember that Herod kills all the children under two years of age.
In between this terror and this killing, the magi go back to look for the baby, into the dark night guarded by angels and guided by dreams. Ahead of them goes the star until it stops over the house which holds the baby and his family. The Bible tells us exactly how they are feeling the moment that star stops.
But what I’m wondering is, how do they shift their gaze from searching the night sky to seeing the buildings on the horizon line ahead of them? A star is not a spot light; how do they know exactly which house to go to? Or maybe they hear a baby crying… I wonder if their necks are sore from looking up, if their eyes have to adjust to the light when they go into that house. I wonder how we might keep our eyes fixed on the stars without tripping over our own feet, without missing the house right on this street.
You can be sure, that place where the transcendent meets the tender, where the star stops and the baby cries, this is the place where all the world is changed and our own lives too.
May God bless the reading and hearing of this holy word.
(Scripture Matthew 2:1-15)
Invitation to the Ritual
When those Zoroastrian scientist priests saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. Then they went into the house, their eyes adjusted to the light, and they saw the baby Jesus with his mother Mary.
Here we find our own sense of call in the wild dreams that sparkle the sky and in the baby whom we hold in our arms. It’s not a choice between one dream or the other; we need both. The writer Frederick Buechner describes our call as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Here is the place where the star stops and the baby cries.
You have a yellow and an orange piece of paper.
In just a minute we will have a prayer of discernment followed by special music.
During this time, I invite you to write just a few words.
On the orange sheet, could you name one wild dream you have for the world?
Maybe it’s a world without war or hunger, a cure for AIDS, meaningful immigration reform… any wild dream, no matter how impossible it seems, as long as it matters to you. Please name it, in just a few words, on the orange sheet.
Then on the yellow sheet, I invite you to name a dream you have for your life in 2015. Something that you wish could happen or something that you mean to do.
During the offering, you will be invited to bring up these dreams along with your gifts.You do not need to put your name on these papers, but I would like to share these dreams —perhaps in a future sermon or in a Visitor article. If you do not want your dreams to be shared, please hold onto them.
(Orange a dream for the world, Yellow a dream for your life) Questions?
Let us pray.
O Holy Spirit,
You reach out to us through stars, and dreams, and angels,
through power shaken and turned upside down-
through a baby born to change the world.
Will you come and meet us here in this prayer.
Come enlarge our capacity to imagine what is possible
We pray for our world
for people we don’t know
for places stained with violence gone stale
for issues we still believe in, even when the long view is hard to see
Hear our silent prayers for the world,
Help us name a dream for this world, O God.
Holy God, come and find us right here.
However we are feeling, wherever we are right now-
We pray for our own lives, for health, for family,
for conflict unresolved and sorrow unhealed,
for hopeful promise that draws us deeper into each new day.
Hear these silent prayers for our own lives,
Help us name a dream for ourselves for this new year, O God.
We thank you O Holy Spirit.
Please keep finding us in dreams and angels,
help us turn oppression into justice, and war into peace.
Help us care for every little baby born to change the world. Amen.