On Following Stars and Dreams: Hope in the Unclear

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 

While Mary had just finished her season of expectation, the wise men’s journey, predicated on a cryptic, yet profoundly meaningful message, a star, had begun. We don’t know what kind of star it was, but to the wise men, who were known for their esoteric knowledge and certainly studied the movement of stars, this was a special message that the baby king had arrived; a sign that they evidently expected to see because they knew its meaning as soon as they saw it. Living some distance away, the message of this star was so impressive that it motivated what they did next. This king, like the stars in the sky, could be witnessed by anyone. The impact of Jesus instantly spread all over the world at his birth.

The wise men pursued the star in response, using it as a light source and roadmap as they traveled in foreign territory through dark nights, laden with expensive gifts and expecting to get to their destination safely. The promise of the star assured them that they would find who they were looking for once they got there. For the wise men, Advent was not merely waiting and watching for stars, but it encompassed advancing upon the star and a foreign king.

What did the baby king mean to the wise men? These were men who were not considered to be God’s people, yet they understood the significance of this star, as well as the birth, enough to risk traveling a great distance to pay homage. They were strangers who approached King Herod with confidence, sure in the promise of this birth and the place they had in it. Their confidence was rewarded, unwittingly in dangerous circumstances, with the final steps they needed to get to Bethlehem.

Matthew tells us that the wise men were overwhelmed with joy on seeing that the star had stopped (2:10). They were men who likely didn’t expect to live to see this great kingdom come to fruition and didn’t expect to be part of it. Fruition for them was seeing the star stop moving and the baby, not in a palace, but in a modest home.

Later in the chapter, God’s messenger communicates to the wise men (2:12) and to Joseph (2:13, 2:19, 2:22) through a series of dreams giving them travel instructions. Get up and go.

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 

Like the stars, dreams typically appear to us at night and even the most intense or lifelike dreams usually become foggy and forgettable within hours of waking. What can appear quite meaningful at night becomes less significant in the daylight when one is conscious. But like the star, the message and the messenger of these dreams emerged from the shadows of sleep and memory loss as an overwhelming light compelling the wise men, and Joseph, to follow their instructions.

They traveled in hope – the wise men, hoping to see the child, while Joseph, who was now experienced at receiving and obeying the messages in these dreams, traveled to save the child. He left by night into a foreign country to keep his family safe and then back into dangerous territory in hope that the promise of the child would come to fruition. And when Joseph was unsure of where exactly in Israel to go, he was given further direction when he needed it.

As we wait for Christ during this Advent season, consider that the meaning of Advent pushes beyond hopeful expectation into real action. It is getting up and going without having a clear picture of where to go or what to expect once you get there. It’s trusting God to get you there safely when you don’t know what the consequences are for following His instructions. It’s having enough faith in your journey to ask for help along the way. It’s preparing for the arrival with gifts ahead of seeing that there will be something to celebrate. It’s confidently knowing that even as an outsider, you belong and that the promise is for you too.

LaCanas Y. Tucker Manhattan Church of Christ New York, NY