Let God’s stars guide you to Christ
- Order of Service: Word and Sacrament, p26
- Lessons: Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:2-12, Matthew 2:1-12
- Hymns: 56, 83, 79, 67
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh!
I know that some of you are nervous and afraid. You’re nervous and afraid, just as I am, about the change that’s coming. After over six years among you, your pastor is leaving. And when a pastor leaves questions pop up. “What next?” “Will we get a pastor?” “When will we get a pastor?” “What will he be like?” “How will we get anything done without our own full-time pastor?” If I had the answer to any of those questions, I would give them to you, but I don’t. I don’t know the mind and purposes of the Lord, so I don’t know what’s next for St. Mark beyond the arrival of Pastor Gabb as your vacancy pastor later this week.
But I’d like you to consider something. The Wise Men, these Magi, did not have pastors that we know of. Yet they managed to find Christ, to worship Christ, and, we assume, to enjoy the bliss of heaven. King Herod, surrounded by pastors, these chief priests and teachers, couldn’t find Christ, except to try to kill Him.
I’m not suggesting that pastors aren’t important. Or that they’re a problem. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. Scripture makes it clear that the pastoral office is a gift of God. God instituted the preaching and teaching office. He gives pastors. He sends pastors. He wants Christians to have pastors to preach the Word to you, to baptize you, to give you the Lord’s Supper. So, calling a new pastor isn’t optional. What I am suggesting is that we don’t give pastors more credit than they deserve. I say this for you and for myself.
I say this to warn myself to avoid the pastor’s trap known as the “Messiah complex.” I dare not think and act as if I am Jesus Christ here and without me all would fall. That’s blasphemy. And so, as I prepare to leave, I leave things in the hands of others. I leave things in the hand of the Council, the Congregation, and the vacancy pastor, trusting, better, knowing, that they will do fine without me. Because I’m not Jesus.
I say this to you, so that you don’t think that the departure of one pastor and the uncertainty of a vacancy means that the sky is falling, the world is ending, and the apocalypse is upon you. Because they’re not. To think so is to deny the God who says, Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5, NIV84). That doesn’t mean there won’t be uncertainty, or struggles, or awkwardness. Some things won’t get done or done the same way, because others will do them, others will learn to do them, and new styles of doing and leading will manifest themselves.
I say this to remind you that it’s not about the pastor. Again, the Magi had none, and things worked out. Herod had many, no doubt skilled and learned and capable, and he (and they) tried to murder Christ. So, if it’s not about the pastor, what is it about? It’s about what God gives to the pastor. It’s about the stars God uses to guide you to Christ. Stars God makes appear. Stars God uses to point us in the right direction.
We saw his star in the east, the Wise men said (Matthew 2:2, NIV84). And, as they left Herod the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was (2:9, NIV84). God used visible, tangible things to bring these men from the east to worship Christ. He made a star appear, a special star, a unique star, a moving star. And the star guided the Wise Men to Christ.
But not only the star. How did these Wise Men know that this star had any significance? Well, some would say there were astrologers, pagan priests who believed that the stars tell about important events and predict the future. So, they read it in the stars and stumbled upon Jerusalem looking for a king. Hardly. They asked for the one born king of the Jews. They told Herod that they planned to worship this Child as God.
Where would they get that information? From God’s other star. Sometimes God uses visible, tangible things, like a star, or a cut foreskin, or a system of sacrifices and offerings. We could call that God’s visible Word. He puts His message into things that can be seen, tasted, touched, and smelled. But then, God also puts those visible, tangible things into words. The Wise Men came from the east, from Babylon or Persia perhaps, where for centuries Jews had lived, Jews who had God’s Old Testament Scriptures. The title Matthew uses for these men – Magi – was once held by Daniel, a Jew who rose to high ranks under Babylonian and Persian kings. And, on top of that, a faithful believer in the coming Messiah who told others about God’s plans and purposes, who no doubt introduced the Old Testament to the other Magi with whom He worked. The result being that hundreds of years later these successors to Daniel knew the words Moses recorded in the book of Numbers, a prophecy uttered by a man named Balaam: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel (Numbers 24:17, NIV84).
In other words, because God’s Word announced it years in advance, these star watchers looked for a star. They looked for it in the land from which Daniel came: Judah, also known as Israel, or the land of Jacob. And this star prophecy called a scepter, that is, the thing a king holds, that is, they were looking for a king to rise in Israel. Because God pointed them in the right direction with His Word. Then gave them a visible Word, this star, to follow to the home where this Star and Scepter waited to be revealed as God in the flesh.
The star got them to Jerusalem, where a riot broke out because they naively asked, “Where is the new king?” A silly thing to do in the kingdom of Herod, a man known for executing his sons, his wives, his parents, his grandparents, his in-laws, anyone who might have any claim to rule. This news disturbed Herod. It disturbed the whole city, because when Herod gets disturbed, people died. Still, the Wise Men keep asking. So Herod begins asking. And notice, Herod didn’t ask about any old king, Herod asked where the Christ was to be born (Matt. 2:5, NIV84). He sensed where the Wise Men were heading. And Herod’s pastors pointed Herod, and the Wise Men, even further in the right direction. Because once more God’s star shines.
When asked where the Christ would be born, Herod’s pastors say, This is what the prophet has written, and then they refer to the famous words of the Old Testament prophet Micah, “From Bethlehem will come a ruler who will shepherd Israel” (cf. Matt. 2:5-6, NIV84). Herod hoped to use this information to ferret out the Christ and kill him. The Wise Men used it to find and worship the Child who was born to save them from their sins. God’s visible star reappeared and led them to the right Child in the right house in the right town, led them to the King of Creation, to the Savior of the world, to Immanuel, God with us.
And God’s stars got them there. As they do today. God still uses visible, tangible things to get us to Jesus and He still uses words on a page. We have the Holy Scriptures, that Word of the Lord that endures forever. We have God’s Baptism and Holy Communion. We have visible words. We have written sacraments. All pointing to Christ. All announcing the arrival and presence of the King. Now here’s the twist. Not just so that we might worship Him, but so that He might come to us.
Normally, like the Wise Men did, you go to the King. You seek Him out. You beg for a few moments, if He can spare them. But this King comes to you. He puts the star right in front of your face. This King speaks words of promise. This King pours out water and hands out food. This King gave gifts to you, rather than you buying His favor with your gifts. This little Child poured out His whole life into these gifts. His whole life was the gift: “My body, given for you. My blood, shed for you.”
Thus, to get back where we started, the importance of the pastor isn’t in his person, but rather in his work. Our Lutheran Confessions remind us that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake. His death made satisfaction for our sins. God counts our faith in that death of Christ as our righteousness. But so that we may obtain that faith, God instituted the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. God, so to speak, put the stars in the sky, to get us to the body and blood of Christ. God gives you pastors to get you to the body and blood of Christ, to get you to the forgiveness you need, to get you into the throne-room of your King, so that He can gift you with life, and you can do what comes naturally when you get a gift: fall on your knees and say thank-you.
I understand your fear and your nervousness. I’m nervous too. Nervous about leaving, nervous about traveling, nervous about your future and mine. But then look and see: His star remains. Look and see Christ in God’s Word and God’s Sacraments, and realize that the pastor is merely God’s instrument. An important instrument, but an instrument nonetheless. You have an incredible blessing at St. Mark and in the Evangelical Lutheran Church – you’re surrounded by God’s stars. For a time, you will be without a permanent pastor, yet even in this vacancy, you still have God’s stars pointing you to Christ. You have the Spirit of God forgiving your sins weekly, daily, and hourly, as often as you need, because your pastor may leave, but Christ never does. Amen.