This blog is a transcript of my sermon delivered on December 18, 2016 at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. Video and audio of the sermon can be accessed here.
The title of my sermon is “a star is born.” Now some of you may be worried that I am trying to do a mash-up of the 1970’s movie and Christmas. I am not. That would be just too creepy. Barbara Streisand as Mary? Kris Kristofferson as Joseph? And the baby Jesus played by a young Gary Busey? That’s just wrong.
No, the title of my sermon is “a star is born” because I’m preaching about real stars. The kind that shine from the sky, not the stage.
Obviously with Christmas a week away, we think about the star of Bethlehem rising in the East to mark Jesus’ birth. And this week, I couldn’t stop thinking about that star.
For thousands of years, humanity has been drawn to the light of the stars. Watching the constellations, tracking the paths of the planets, studying the cycle of the sun all in an attempt to understand the great mysteries of life. NASA does it, Galileo did it, and 2000 years ago three Wise Men did it – tracked the stars – in an attempt to find the Messiah.
But the human draw to the heavens is more than just imagination and exploration. It is organic, even hereditary. The stars are our old ones, our wise ones, for we as human beings actually carry their genetic imprint.
Joni Mitchell sang the famous lyrics “we are stardust.” And it turns out she’s right. Literally.
In a recent article, National Geographic news explained that our human bodies are made of remnants of stars and massive explosions in the galaxies. Carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, iron and sulfur—most of the material that we’re made of — comes out of the star dust scattered across the universe kicked off by those explosions. As the article explained, “We have stuff in us as old as the universe.”
Given that we are stardust, we should ask what can we learn from these heavenly bodies. I did a little research this week and let me share with you what I found:
There is a striking parallel between the life cycle of a star and the spiritual life cycle of human beings.
There are basically two stages to the life of a star. The first stage is when a star is born. Gravity begins to pull gases towards a center core. The temperature begins to rise, and eventually the density of the gases causes a nuclear reaction. It’s then that the star begins to shine, drawing energy toward the light, to its core, then radiating that light back out into the galaxy.
This can go on for billions of years, until we come to the the second stage where the star’s center can’t hold anymore. The star has too little fuel left to maintain its core temperature, so it’s light goes out and it collapses under its own weight, drawing everything around it into a dark abyss.
Tell me that doesn’t sound familiar.
We’ve all been there.
Sometimes we are in a place in life where we draw our energy toward the light and reflect it warmth and back to all around us. And sometimes we have lost all fuel, our light goes out, and we collapse, emotionally or otherwise, into a dark abyss.
These days it’s easy to find ourselves in that abyss. The holidays can do that. Between crazy schedules, and job stress, money worries, health issues, worries for our country, worries for our world, not to mention the fact that it’s dark all the time … it’s easy to find ourselves drawn to the darkness.
And just like the stars, the only thing between a heart that draws in the light and a heart that collapses into a black hole is a strong center. A center that can hold.
William Butler Yeats wrote a poem entitled, “The Second Coming”, and it begins with these words:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Well that’s a lovely upbeat holiday message. Yet we all know that sometimes life can be like that poem. Chaotic, scary, unpredictable, ominous. Kind of like the explosive chaotic energy of a star. And in the midst of the chaos, like that star, we try desperately to hold onto some semblance of a core. Unfortunately, the centers we tend to create won’t hold.
There are all kinds of crazy things that we choose to put in our center that weaken our core. We put titles, and bank accounts, and status and stuff at the center of things. We look to other people—our spouses, partners, friends and family to fill our core. We put ego, anger, resentment and fear at the center.
And we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Just look at our scripture today from Ecclesiastes 2 that lists the types of things King Solomon puts at the center of his life to hold it together:
“I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; I made myself gardens and parks, I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces . . . So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.”
But then, in verse 11, Solomon realizes that this earthly center cannot hold. “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
Inevitably, there comes a point in life where the things we have put in the center can’t hold anymore. The job won’t last forever, money gets spent, Botox only lasts for three months, the latch on the designer purse will eventually break, marriages falls apart. Like a dying star, when our center can’t hold, the light goes out, and we begin to collapse into the darkness.
We simply must find a center that will hold. And we need look no further than the scriptures to find that center. Consider:
Psalm 55:22 “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”
Isaiah 40:31 “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles.”
Matthew 7:24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and DOES them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”
There is the center that will hold, there is a center that will not fall, there is a center that will never collapse. And that center is God.
Our message today reminds me of the 12 step program. The first three steps cut right to what we are talking about — finding a center that will hold.
STEP ONE: We admit we are powerless over ________. Here we fill in our addictions, our weaknesses (alcohol, drugs, anger, food, relationships).
STEP TWO: We believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity – is a center that can hold.
STEP THREE: We turn our will and our lives over to the care of that power.
What do you have in the center of your life? Is it strong enough to hold you through the good times and the bad? If your center is not holding, if your light is starting to go out, go outside and find a place where you can look up into the heavens and remember the stars. Remember how the stars take chaos and turmoil and transform them into light. Remember how their warmth and power is radiated far out into the universe. And most importantly, remember that it was a star that pulled the wise men towards the light – the true light of world.
We have the power to shine as brightly as the stars. In fact, our highest and greatest calling is to be like the stars, to draw our energy toward the light, towards God’s great power in our core, and then send that light back out bringing light and warmth throughout the world.
All we have to do is find a center that will hold.
All we have to do is find a place in our hearts . . . where a star is born.