Following Stars Toward Hope
Persia was one of the world’s first superpowers. But after 200 years Alexander the Great defeated them, ending their empire. Some Persians accepted their fate under Greek rule with all its accompanying Hellenistic influence, but others longed for independence from foreign domination. Among them – the magi. They were not just men of good counsel. They had knowledge of that natural world, were well-versed in the intricacies of society and people, which made them keen political operatives in the East. And they kept hope alive in Persia for a return to freedom.
They lived long under occupation, witnesses to the continued disintegration of Persian culture around them. They likely discerned that all the signs pointed in the direction of continued subjugation. Deep knowledge made the magi deeply aware that there was no end in sight. Hopelessness almost seemed like the wisest option. Until a star rose in the night sky – and so did their hopes.
These political pilgrims followed the star into enemy territory looking for hope that something new was underway, they were looking for a reason to keep hope alive. The star led them to Jerusalem, another city under occupation. As men esteemed beyond their borders, they entered the city and found Herod, the local ruler. But they were wise enough to know he was not the one they journeyed to find.
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” they asked. “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Herod, despite his extensive surveillance apparatus, did not see the star. And he, along with his functionaries, were troubled by talk of a newborn usurper. It was not lost on him that these politically astute men came into his palace not to honor him, but to find and worship another. They knew things that could upend his rule.
The star returned, guiding the magi to a small home in Bethlehem. And the magi worshipped the newborn king. But if it is not already clear – this was not a purely religious act. The word used for worship in Matthew’s gospel has more political freight to it, so the magi offered homage to a political superior. They found the true king of the Jews, and acted accordingly. They gave gifts. They gave honor. They dared to worship a rival ruler. Their brave journey west coupled with their discernment allowed them to witness the beginning of a new world order in Judea. In a sense, their resistance was rewarded. And if an indigenous leader could be restored in Judea, then it could happen anywhere – even in their Persian homeland. The magi returned home with visions of liberation for their land, too.
In occupied spaces, often our imagination is shut down. Hope is hard to hold on to when all you see is your world crumbling. But often it is the artists among us that stoke hope when our reserves are nearly empty. And Sliman Mansour, Palestinian artist of resistance, does this for the people of Palestine. His work keeps the story of his people alive, and points toward the hope that still exists in the soil of the land and the soil of their hearts. He paints resilient women, terraced olive tree groves, Palestinian families clad in kufiyahs. His work shows what is hard, but also where hope still resides. Like the magi of old, he is not shy naming occupation and pushing against it through his artwork. He is a star leading toward hope amid a hard landscape.
Joining the invitation to participate in God’s peace campaign includes following stars into unexpected, even hostile, territory to hunt for hope. It means embracing the truth that hope is not only on offer for our community, but for the wider world that God so loves. The first advent shows us that Judeans, Galileans, even Persians were beneficiaries of God’s peace invitation.
The star leads to hope for all occupied lands and all occupied peoples.
Author Kelley Nikondeha is a practical theologian hungry for the New City. She is the co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. Kelley is the theologian in residence for SheLoves Magazine. Her latest book is “The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope”. Find out more about Kelley’s work on her website: https://kelleynikondeha.com/.
CMEP’s first Advent Devotional Book: In addition to our usual Advent Devotionals, CMEP is pleased to have partnered with author Kelley Nikondeha to create a devotional book entitled “The First Advent: Embodying God’s Peace Plan” that is available for purchase for you or your church group. This devotional book contains devotionals for each Sunday of Advent, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as Alternative Advent Practices written by members of CMEP’s staff. Click here to purchase
CMEP is very thankful for those writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.