Friday, December 5, 2008

Stargazers

We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.

                        Matthew 2.2

On the Lookout

My first professional aspiration was movie criticism. As a kid in the late 60’s, early 70’s, I grew up when—unlike today—lousy pictures were harder to find than great ones. During this time, I sent a gushing fan letter to the country’s finest film critic, who was legendarily gifted to peg fresh talent in its infancy. It started a 20-year correspondence and friendship, much of it spent in conversation about rising stars. “Stay on the lookout,” she told me. “The critic who sees possibilities is the one people read first.” I recently pulled out some of my letters to her with her handwritten responses crammed in their margins. One of them, from October 1991, mentioned I’d just seen Man in the Moon and was completely bowled over by its star, a 15-year-old actress named Reese Witherspoon. She circled the name and wrote, “She’s a keeper” beside it.

Reading Matthew’s account of the Magi always reminds me of my mentor. Like her, the Wise Men were uncannily observant and prescient about new signs on the horizon. They remained finely attuned to changes in their environment. Their combined knowledge and experience enabled them to recognize potential that others couldn’t see. If they saw something major occurring overhead, they didn’t look for confirmation from anyone else. They acted on their own intuitions with haste. A final comparison between my mentor and the Magi bears note. On detecting a significant star or development on the rise, her unbridled enthusiasm often shocked the critical establishment and film industry, both of which preferred to wait and see how the public would react first. The Wise Men were no different. When they identified the star announcing Christ’s birth, they hurried to find Him, and in the process, they rattled quite a few cages.

The Kindness of Strangers

Matthew gives us very little background about the Magi. Tradition assumes there were three of them based on their presenting the Christ Child with three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But the Gospel doesn’t specify a number—there might have been only two, or there could have been a dozen. Tradition also places them in the stable, alongside the shepherds. This directly contradicts Matthew, who tells us they arrived some time after Jesus was born and found Him in a house (Matthew 2.11), leading us to assume this was after Bethlehem’s overcrowding subsided to allow Joseph to find better lodgings for his wife and her Son. Lastly, we don’t know their professional disciplines. Some theorize they were astronomers or amateur stargazers. Others believe they were philosophers or mystics. Still others suspect they were royal officials, given their easy access to King Herod’s court, where they first inquired about Jesus.

In the end, these details come to little more than passing curiosities. What’s important to remember is they were strangers with presumably nothing to gain from the King of the Jews. Yet outsider status didn’t keep them from seeking Him and their determination to worship Christ stirred up controversy. Paranoid about being dethroned, Herod convened religious and legal leaders to find out if the foreigners’ interpretation of prophecy was accurate. Learning it was, he lamely tried to exploit their confidence to undermine God’s plan and retain power. He approached them on the sly, saying, “When you find the Child, tell me where He is so I can worship Him also.” Didn’t he realize they were Wise Men? They immediately saw his murderous intentions. Matthew says they went on their way, unfazed and undeterred by the king’s deceitfulness. When they found Jesus, they approached Him with kindness, offering Him their best and bowing before Him in humility. Then, before they left, Matthew reports, “Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

Signs of Changing Times

The Magi’s story holds notable meaning for all believers. But it’s particularly resonant for GLBT and other outcast believers, and it’s particularly relevant in an Advent season coming so soon after the campaign to deny same-sex marriages. The crafty schemes of political and religious leaders have tried to alienate us further from Christ and His church. They sincerely believe we have nothing to gain by seeking and worshiping the Savior. Their paranoia about losing their power has goaded them into deceitful activities. Yet, like the Magi, we must stay wise to their traps, considering them negative reactions to positive signs of changing times. A new star is on the rise. We’re not swayed by the machinations of kings or the opinions of priests and lawyers. We’re stargazers. We follow Christ’s light. It leads us directly to His house. We enter with kindness and humility, offering Him the best we have. And when we leave, we go by another route, avoiding controversy designed to undermine God’s plan. Christ is our Savior, our Lord, and our King. We’ve seen His star and come to worship Him.

 

Controversy follows those who follow the Star--but if we're wise, we'll remain unfazed and undeterred as we seek Christ and worship Him.

(Tomorrow: Rejected by Men)

Postscript: The Straight-Friendly Christmas Album

Straight-Friendly is handsomely blessed with a widely diverse, eclectic, and lively group of readers. I’m sure each of us has one or two favorite holiday recordings we’d like others to hear. Some may be standards—after all, you can’t beat the likes of Bing and Mahalia when it comes to Christmas singing. But I’m also guessing we’ve got a few favorites that aren’t likely to surface on a Starbucks CD or the Gap’s playlist—a baroque canticle, say, or a reggae cover of a familiar melody. So here’s the plan.

Between now and next Wednesday (12/10), leave a comment with a couple of your favorite holiday songs or recordings (song and artist). If we come up with 10 or more between us (and I truly hope we will), I’ll compile them into an “album” and post a link where it can be downloaded. What we’ll have is a marvelous holiday snapshot of all of us to enjoy during this most sacred, festive time of year! To start, I’ll toss out my two favorites: Whitney Houston’s “Joy to the World” and Holly Cole’s “Wildwood Carol.” Now it’s your turn.

2 comments:

Border Explorer said...

Tim, first--I loved this reflection. May I add that I've always liked the fact that the Wise Men returned home by a different route than the one they came by. To me, the ability to change, to adjust, to modify one's course is a sign of wisdom. I hope our nation won't take too long to change course on marriage equality.

A brand new holiday fav song for me is James Taylor's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." I'm considering purchasing the entire Holiday album simply for this one song. But I resist this wanton consumerism...as befits the true meaning of the season. :-)

Tim said...

BE, how true that the ability to alter one's direction or opinion in keeping with changing circumstances is a sign of wisdom. It indicates so many tendencies that only come from being wise--eagerness to grow, for instance, or broader sensibilities about what's at stake. As I get older, I'm finding that people I once admired greatly for their diehard positions and unyielding opinions make me nervous. Often it seems people who are the most set in their ways also prove to be the least stable and balanced. You make an excellent point--thank you.

And thanks for adding Taylor's recording to the mix. (Three down, seven to go!) At the risk of coming off like a holiday huckster, I can't resist urging you to pick up the CD. We bought it a year or two ago and it's far and away our favorite. I don't know how he does it, but when James Taylor sings, he takes me home. He's like an old sweater or a broken-in pair of shoes--just loose enough to feel comfortable, which is why I think he's perfect for the holidays.

Thanks again for stopping by, BE. It's always terrific to hear from you.

Joy always,
Tim