There’s a poem by Joyce Rupp that I often like to read upon entering a new year. I picked it up earlier this week to read at our staff meeting but quickly realized it was not going to cut it for entering 2021. It begins with these words: “the old year runs away from me. I hang onto her sleeve, but she shakes me loose.”
This is only the third day of 2021 but I don’t know of a single soul who hasn’t dropped the sleeve of 2020 like a hot potato and come running into the arms of 2021 as if they were being chased by an axe murderer.
I’m pretty sure that at 12:01 on Friday morning in time zones all over the planet people were shouting farewell 2020 and good riddance to you!
As we turn to the familiar story of the Magi who travel a great distance to find the infant Jesus, I can’t help but wonder what it was that these starry eyed travellers were leaving behind and what it was they were hoping to find when they set out for an unknown destination under a darkened sky.
When we tell the story of the Magi to the children at the church we talk about how the Magi, whose name our word “magic” comes from, were very wise. Of all the things they knew, they knew the most about the stars. The magi knew where all the stars were supposed to be in the sky. That was, of course, until they spotted the wild star. This star they discovered under the cover of darkness moved in ways they had never previously encountered. This star was not on any of their maps. In order to follow this star, they had to set aside all the maps they had used in the past to allow this new star to show them the way.
Setting aside our maps and finding a new way has been a theme for all of us this past year hasn’t it? Under the dark sky that Covid-19 has cast over us, we have had to learn how to focus in on those things that offer us the kind of sustenance we need for the long haul that this much longer than expected journey is taking us on. We have had no other choice than to travel on new paths, trusting that what we need will be given to us. Like the Magi, who had to journey one day at a time, travelling only during the night time so they could actually see the star that was guiding them, we too have had to take this last year one day at a time. For some of us it has only been when the sky was very dark and we had no other options left before us that we learned to look beyond ourselves for greater guidance.
In so many ways, the journey of the Magi was a journey of trust. It was long and arduous and it took longer than any of them anticipated to reach their desired location. Along the way they encountered life-threatening perils. They needed others to help them find their way. They needed to access their God given wisdom to keep themselves safe. All of these are things we too have had to do this past year. Like us, the Magi had to adapt to their circumstances, change their travel plans and find a new way forward in an unknown land.
We will never know all that the Magi were so desperate to leave behind that they set off on their great adventure. Perhaps like us, it was a journey they never intended to set out on in the first place. But we do have some hints about what it was that compelled them to keep moving forward, to keep their eyes cast towards the wild star and trusting in the Great Mystery to guide them.
Celtic writer John Phillip Newell says “The wise ones bring gifts: gold, a costly stone that speaks of the preciousness of the Child; frankincense, a blessed aromatic that signifies the sacredness of the Child; myrrh, a curative ointment that points to the healing gifts of the Child. Preciousness, sacredness, healing – this is what the magi are looking for and come to adore.
Surely as we run into the new year that is 2021 we are rushing towards these very same gifts. If John Phillip Newell is correct, we don’t actually have to travel very far to find them for according to him we carry within us the precious gold of life, the sacred fragrance of God and the healing salve of love.
As we travel home from the manger this year, the end of the road is still not fully in sight. The path before us continues to be through unknown territory and we will no doubt encounter perils unforeseen. But hopefully we have learned in this last year how to trust more deeply in one another, what we need to sustain us on our journey and how to tune our hearts to the great star that guides us. We have discovered that we are stronger than we think and more capable and adaptable than we once imagined. My hope is that we will not leave these gifts behind as we travel into the new year.
For some of us, the star gift word we received at the beginning of 2020 is part of what helped to guide us through the uncharted territory in which we found ourselves last year. In a minute we are going to hear some of those stories and later today, those of you who are able are invited to come by the church and receive a star gift for 2021. Whether the word you receive this year is something that comforts you or challenges you, we can be assured that Great Star that keep the Magi company on their journey, will also companion us and lead us safely home.