A Star to Follow

Sunday, January 1, 2023
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier

Matthew 2:

January 1, 2023

Happy New Year.  Today is day one of 2023. As we turn the page onto a brand-new year, you may have taken some time to reflect on 2022 and to ask some of those perennial questions about the future.

Where is my life headed? What might God be calling me to do? What is most important and what should I be pursuing? You know. The small questions of life.

We have been asking a few of these questions at Augustana and we will continue to in the New Year. A survey will be sent out at the end of month which will help assess where we are now and guide our planning for the future.

Truth be told, we have spent over two years navigating uncharted territory amidst COVID shutdowns and staff transitions. That transitional or in between place has sometimes been called a liminal space. The word liminal is derived from a Latin word for threshold. A liminal space is that place between what was and whatever is next.  You know where you have been, but you’ve left that shore. Now you are adrift on the open sea, with no land in sight, unsure where you will land next.

Here at Augustana, it feels like a new era is beginning to dawn. And yet, like it or not, more changes are ahead. Some changes we can see, but others we cannot.

I wonder what kind of questions the wisemen in today’s gospel lesson were asking when they packed up their camels and left their homes. They had no idea where they would end up. Heck, they did not know where they would be the next day, the next week, or months following that. Think about this. They had no map. No GPS. And did not know exactly how far they would travel or where they would end up. But they set out anyway.

Do you remember the hymn “We Three Kings of Orient Are?”  And the rubber cigar that was loaded… and exploded? Okay, those were not the approved lyrics. But that hymn has forever cemented into many minds that there were not one, not two, but three kings that followed the star to Bethlehem. Tradition even has given them names and physical descriptions. The only problem is that the Bible doesn’t say these wisemen were kings. There are no names or descriptions and we do not know if there were only three of them. What we do know is that they brought three gifts. (Although some have argued that there was a fourth wiseman, but he brought a fruitcake, so his gift was not recognized.)

Seriously, biblical scholars believe that the wisemen, or magi, were probably Zoroastrian priest sages from Persia or modern-day Iran. They practiced astronomy and astrology and the magical arts. These folks were complete outsiders to the nation of Israel, and yet…they were determined to follow the light given to them and where it led. Ironically, while most of Israel remained clueless that the Messiah had been born, these foreigners came and worshipped the Christ child.

When they set out, the wisemen could not see where the star would eventually lead but they trusted the light they were given.

And THAT is a powerful model for our own journeys of faith. We have no idea what is before us in this new year. We are unsure exactly how we will navigate through all the uncertainty. But we are not lost. When we intentionally follow the light that has been given to us and pay attention to the Spirit’s leading, we will find our way.

Think about this. These wisemen were observant. They paid attention. And they were willing to seek guidance and step out in faith. They were open to God’s prompting and as a result they avoided the evil schemes of King Herod and went home by another way. And finally, with grateful hearts, they worshipped the Christ child. These are all faithful ways that we can follow God into the new year.

We can be open to the nudges of the Holy Spirit. We can pay attention to God’s movement in our lives. We can seek guidance by reading Scripture and spending time with God in prayer. We can seek out the wisdom of other believers. And we can join the community of believers to pray, worship and rejoice in God’s faithfulness.

Yes, we too can step out in faith, into the unknown following the light we have been given. For the one who leads us will be with us every single step of the way.

Later in this service, we will have communion. After you receive the bread and the wine, you will have an opportunity to pick up a star word. A star word is a simple tool that can provide a focus and inspiration for year ahead. Your star word may invite reflection as you go through your daily life, considering how God might be prompting you to pray or step out in faith. Who knows how the Spirit might use this word in your life to challenge, refresh or encourage you.

I invite you to simply pick a word from the basket and receive it as a gift. I challenge you to let the word pick you, rather than sifting through them to find one you want. Of course, there are no star words police, so you can exchange it for another if you like.

The significance of the word may not be apparent right away – you may not even like it very much. It is okay to just sit with it for a while. Pray and ask God if there is something in this word that the Spirit is prompting you to explore or reflect upon.

Then, keep it in a place you will see it often. Maybe in your Bible or devotional book or on the bathroom mirror. And prayerfully reflect upon that prompt from time to time over this next year. Many people who have used star words have seen God use them in their lives to provoke deeper understanding, or action or growth.

Star words are not magic. This is just one tool for reflection that can help you discover how God is breaking into your world.

A brand-new year is stretching out before us. As we journey into the future – remember this. We may have no idea what tomorrow holds, but – we do know the One who hold the future. And before the dawn even breaks upon the horizon, God is already there – with open arms.  Amen.

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