January 3, 2016
Star – Followers
I don’t know how many of you were able to see one of the performances of Amahl and the Night Visitors that Philip put on. It really was wonderful! I had never seen the opera before. It tells the story of a poor family, a young crippled boy named Amahl and his mother, who is at her wit’s end trying to keep hearth and home together. The young boy is a dreamer, and he keeps telling his mother tall tales. One day he comes home and insists he has seen a star, a bright, enormous star with a tail this big. Of course his mother doesn’t believe him.
But then the three wise men come to their house on their journey to find the infant Jesus – there really is a star, and it’s leading them to this new King. As the story unfolds, Amahl’s warm, generous heart makes him want to give all he has to this new King. In return for his faithfulness he his miraculously healed, and goes with the wise men to worship Jesus.
The story’s charming, and the performance was wonderful. The three kings were over the top– Scott Hayes from St. Luke’s, Philip’s brother-in-law Kevin, and his friend Matt. Of course, Jon Farris was directing, so how could you go wrong?
The story of the wise men is, in its own right, charming. The idea that important people would come from so far, in search of a new king no one had even expected… The thought that the great King Herod would be threatened by a baby born to commoners, and be thwarted by the ephemeral power of dreams and stars… It’s a story of good vs. evil, weak over strong, surprising heroes and unlikely helpers.
With a star in the East, rising as a sign to point them to God, Jesus comes into our world to save us.
The charm of Amahl and the night visitors is that it makes clear the star is not just for wise men and kings, for the wise or the wealthy, but for ordinary people, for the poor and the crippled, for those the world has forgotten. The star will shine even for those who have lost hope. Maybe it comes especially for them.
What if there were stars for us to follow, too? What if there were signs for us to see, to take us to the very heart of God?
I believe God does give us signs. We just have to have eyes to see them, and then be willing to follow.
As one writer describes, “[T]he world is full of “stars in the East” – events in nature, personal experience, and history that point toward the mystery of God.”
This world is full of stars, signs that lead us to hope. What would it take to see them?
This fall, while I was home recuperating, friends kept sent me books. My world had become very small, and reading was a respite, a window into something greater.
One friend sent a book by Mark Salzman, about a year he spent at a Juvenile Detention Center teaching young gang-kids how to write. It wasn’t a book I would have picked up on my own – about a world so unlike mine, and so hopeless. Talk about people the world has forgotten. Almost all of them faced years in prison for felonies – sometimes murders - they committed in their teens. Salzman tells the stories of these boys, the essays they wrote, their insight that shone even under layers of cynicism, self-protection and bluster.
One Wednesday night there was a full moon, and the boys started talking about the moon and the stars. They wondered why the moon shone and why the stars looked like they were moving – things these kids had never learned in school. Mark got a flashlight and a ball and explained it. He talked about the North Star and why it was the only one that seemed to stay in place. Then he suggested a topic for that night’s writing:
Can you think of some aspect of your lives, or some person, or some idea, that never changes while everything else in your life seems like chaos? Do you have a personal North Star, in other words?
Some wrote about their mothers, who never gave up on them. But some felt they had nothing at all. Nothing ever stayed the same. There was no Star to lead them anywhere.
Except that, years later, Salzman discovered that one young man found his.
By this time Kevin was in prison. In spite of numerous letters of support, even from his probation officer and a nun who volunteered there, Kevin got the maximum sentence, in a maximum security prison. It was likely he would never see the outside world again.
Salzman tried to stay in touch with him, though didn’t hear much back. Then one day he got a letter from Kevin. It included a poem Kevin wrote… And even though his world seems nothing like ours, I want to share it with you now.
I’ve been sitting here bereft,
Alone, locked down
But now I have a window
And see you every night.
Times are hard, but I’ll be all right.
Gun towers, barbed wire is all I see
No matter how far I travel
I glance up, and there you’ll be.
It’s good to have a friend like you
At times you help me shine through.
I still have a long journey to go
But I’ll be free again
I’ll use this time to grow
In not just one way, but all
There’s a lot for me to learn
So I’m gonna start like a baby, with a crawl.
Though the road may seem
Long and far
Eventually I’ll make it
Dear old friend, North Star.
The world is full of stars…
What if there were a star like that in your life…
Something that would give you hope…
Something that could lead you on your journey, however long and hard it might be?
Because the world is full of stars, that still point toward the presence of God...
to a Savior, the one whom we follow.
Rev. Karen Chakoian
First Presbyterian Church
 Thomas G. Long, Matthew (Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 19.
 Mark Salzman, True Notebooks: A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall (New York: Vintage Books, 2004), 255.
 Salzman, 326.