They followed the star

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem wise men from the east came to visit him. They probably came from Persia, modern Iran, and travelled hundreds of miles to get to Bethlehem. These men were Magi and were experts in astronomy and astrology. They had seen a new star appear and knew it was a sign that something very important had happened. The star was God’s sign to the people of the world that his Son, Jesus, had been born. The Magi understood that the child who had been born was a great king, so they followed the star in order to visit him.

God revealed himself to the Magi, who studied the stars, in a way they could understand. He still does that today as he makes us aware of his presence and his power through everyday events. I once met a man who worked on a North Sea oil rig. He told me that he knew God existed and cared about him because of something that happened to him. After a period of shore leave, he had travelled to Aberdeen to catch a helicopter back to his rig. His train was delayed and he missed the flight he was meant to be on. That helicopter crashed into the sea killing everyone on board. The man felt God had protected him, but it didn’t make any difference to his life. The Magi weren’t like that because when they saw the star they followed it until they found the Christ-child.

The star guided the wise men until it stopped over the place where Jesus was. They were overjoyed and went into the house where Jesus, and his mother Mary, were. They bowed down and worshipped him. It was an amazing scene as these learned, dignified and important men bowed in humble and joyful worship before this child who was born to be king. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, for a king, frankincense, for worship, and myrrh, in preparation for the pain and suffering this child would later experience.

The wise men are a great example to us. They wanted to know God and were determined to follow the star wherever it went until they found the new king who had been born. When they saw the Christ-child their lives were transformed. They experienced the truth of one of God’s great promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

The Lord Almighty is here among us

Hurricane Sandy is the largest recorded Atlantic hurricane in diameter. Winds spanning 1000 miles have wreaked destruction on a massive scale. After causing widespread damage in the Caribbean, Sandy moved north and struck the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, including New Jersey and New York. Many people have died. More than 30,000 people in New York need to be rehoused as the winter weather begins and another storm approaches. The cost of repairs and rebuilding will be more than $20 billion.

Hurricanes make people feel helpless. They know the hurricane is coming and that they and their homes are in danger, but there is very little they can do except to wait and try to minimise the damage. The people who live in the Caribbean and the east coast states of America are used to tropical storms and hurricanes, they happen every year. When reports come of an approaching hurricane some residents of states like Florida leave their homes and drive north in order to avoid it. After it has passed they return to assess the damage to their property.

Throughout history people around the world have faced natural disasters. Nearly 3000 years ago the author of Psalm 46 reflected on the relationship he and his nation had with God as they faced the powerful upheavals of nature. “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear, even if earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!” He rejoiced in the eternal power and personal presence of God; “The Lord Almighty is here among us.”

In one community in New Jersey people gathered in a church building. No outside help had yet reached them, but they were helping each other and receiving encouragement from the church staff and members. They were able to pray together and ask God for his help. Many of them had lost everything they had, but they were finding help and comfort in the realisation that God was with them. They were not alone. One lady expressed the confidence of many of them when she told a reporter, “God is good!” Sandy has done real damage, but the goodness and mercy of God are even more real. He really is a refuge and strength for us all and is always ready to help us in times of trouble.