“Second star to the right and straight on til morning,” says Peter Pan. That’s how you get to Neverland in J.M. Barrie’s classic story.
Begs a few questions though, doesn’t it. To the right of what? Polaris, the North Star, is the only one that’s fixed to us (relatively) but even then, “second to the right” is going to change, so which “second?” Wouldn’t it also depend on where you start and when? And how are you travelling?
But then, why would you want to take it so literally, anyway? It’s a fantasy story. It’s an opportunity to escape into wonder and imagination, from which we might learn something about ourselves.
The season of Epiphany begins with a star. I wonder if we could use a little wonder and imagination to see where it can take us.
It took the magi to Jesus. The star, according to the prophecy they were following, would lead them to the promised one, the one who is to “shepherd my people.” The gospel of Matthew, where we find the magi’s story, seems to combine the prophetic words of Samuel and Micah from Hebrew scripture. The point is, the star was the sign that would lead them to the messiah.
The story begs a few questions, though, doesn’t it? Why didn’t anyone else seem to see the star or think it was important? How long had they been following it? It seems to move: “and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen in the east, until it stopped over the place where the child was.” What kind of star is that? How did they know the star led them to right place and the right child? This was likely not the kind of king they were expecting to find, judging by the prophecy and their gifts. And, my favourite, how many magi were there? There were three gifts, but no indication that there was only three magi. I have more questions, but I think that’s enough to make the same point: why would you want to take it so literally, anyway?
What if the point of the story is that we find God when we wonder, imagine and open our hearts and minds to the possibility that God may be found? In a child, in each other, in the poor and the rich, the wise and the foolish, even in an incredibly mobile star, even in all of creation. And, just as easily, that God may be found by anyone. The magi were not from Judea. They weren’t Jews, they were foreigners from “the east,” they could have been of any faith or even of none at all.
No, that’s not right. They had faith. And hope. Faith enough to follow the star and hope that the prophecy would be fulfilled. Faith that they’d found the promised one where they did and hope that their gifts would be enough to honour him.
Jesus would grow up to spend his life trying to show people that God isn’t in the literal word or only for a specific people or tradition. God is in the love that is at the heart of all things and in the life of all things. The star that leads us is an open heart, a wondering mind and an engaging spirit.