Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Story of Leroy's Road Trip

        Before I tell you my story, I want to make it clear that most of it is not in the Bible.  It happens.  People remember things.  They write down what they remember but things get left out or edited or invented.
There are some things you may think you know about this story and they may not be in the Bible either, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth to be found in a good story.
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My husband’s name is Leroy.  You may have heard of him and his “expedition.”  His journey.  A lot of people think he’s royalty, but he’s not. Leroy or Le Roi is French “for the king,” but it’s a name not a job title.  Trust me on this one- he is not a prince.
None of the guys were princes or kings or sultans.  They all have regular day jobs – a rug merchant, a carpenter, a lawyer, a couple of stone masons. One guy travels a lot for the spice trade.  They’re regular guys, but they’re also amateur astrologers.
Or astronomers – I can never remember the difference.  Anyway, once a month they go up on this hill outside of town and look at the stars and the moon and whatever else is up there.  They have these big star charts, where they’ve recorded the locations, the brightness and sizes of hundreds of stars.  Some old guy named Hipparchus made a list of over a thousand stars, so Leroy and the boys are trying to beat his number.  Every time they find another star, they add it to the list. Then they go out for a couple of beers and get up about Noon on the next day. Leroy loves his “star parties.”
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Well, one night Leroy came stumbling home and singing at the top of his lungs.  Woke me up and right away I knew the guys had added a new star to the list, but the next morning as he told me about their discovery, it was clear that they had found a star that no one had ever seen before.  A brand new star!  I suggested Leroy could name it after me, but that never happened.
They started doing research right away and sure enough, there were no previous records of this star.   BUT, there were some scrolls that seemed to say that a star in roughly this same location would be a sign that a new king had been born. Leroy and his best friend, Saxir convinced the whole bunch of them that they should take a road trip and follow the star to meet the new king. 
I’ve never met anyone quite like Saxir.  He’s a magus. Do you know that word? According to Leroy, Saxir isn’t a magician- even though that’s what his name means.  He’s not a wise man or even very educated. Leroy says, his wisdom goes deeper than that.  He says the things that Saxir knows are from another reality.  It’s a secret wisdom.    
I’m not sure if I believe that Saxir has “special knowledge” but he convinced Leroy and the rest of them that if they followed that star, something incredible would happen.  They would be blessed in ways that would be too wonderful to even imagine.
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So we packed our bags and headed out to follow that star. 
It was a long trip.  Too dreadful to even imagine.
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Have you ever traveled by camel?  Across the desert?  It’s not as much fun as it sounds. Camels are smelly.  You can smell them before you see them.  They have bad breath, snotty noses and if they’re mad at you, stay out of their way.  They kick AND they bite.  They also belch.  A lot.  And just so you know, if they spit on you- it’s not just saliva. 
They’re great pack animals if you’re crossing the desert, but who wants to cross the desert?  Sand in your eyes.  Sand in your mouth.  Sand in your clothes.  Sand everywhere.  None of this seemed to bother my husband and his friends.  They were so excited about taking this road trip, there wasn’t anything that was going to get them down.
I just kept saying to myself, “blessings beyond my imagination.”  Over and over with the sway of the camel.
Blessings….   beyond… my imagination…
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The star we followed was unlike any star you have ever seen. It wasn’t like the constellations that slowly move in a pattern with the seasons.  And it wasn’t like a comet that travels in a straight line across the sky.  First we followed the star WEST to Jerusalem and THEN the star took a left turn and went SOUTH.  When we finally got to the king’s home- the star STOPPED.  It just stopped and stayed there, even after we left.
I’m no astronomer, but I can tell you, this is not normal. 
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Our destination for most of the trip seemed to be Jerusalem.  It’s the king’s city in that country and when we first got there Leroy tried to make an appointment to meet King Herod.  However, His Majesty's people said that it would be several weeks before we’d be able to get an audience. So every morning they would go to the palace and then the marketplace and then over by the temple to see if they could find out about the new king. After a couple of days they knew all the local gossip, but with every person, the answer was always the same, “No, I don’t know about a child, born to be the NEW King of the Jews.”
One thing they did learn about the old king was that nobody liked him. They didn’t trust him.  And he didn’t trust the people.  Herod has a secret police force that actually spies on his own people to find out how they’re feeling about him.  Nasty business.  People who’ve talked trash about Herod have been arrested on the spot. 
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After a couple of days, a palace guard showed up at the inn saying that Herod wanted to meet with us.  When we got to the palace we were wined and dined.  And I thought, YES!  The blessings are about to begin.  If all our meals are even half this good, we will be set for the rest of our lives.  Then at the end of the meal, Herod started to ask questions.  Very pointed questions.  Saxir told the king what we knew and he seemed very interested- but not in a nice way.
He told us that we needed to go to Bethlehem and that when we found the newborn king, we should send word to him so that he could come and pay homage.  I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when we left Jerusalem.  
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We packed up the camels and headed for Bethlehem. When we got there all we had to do was keep our eyes on the star.  It lead us to a little house.  Nothing fancy.  No castle.  No palace.  And then the star stopped.  Just stopped.
Saxir was so excited he wanted to knock on the door as soon as we arrived, but we agreed to wait until daybreak.  We didn’t know who was on the other side of that door.  You don’t just break in on a king and his family.  And maybe this was just the servant’s residence. The wise thing to do was wait until morning to introduce ourselves.
But none of us could sleep.  We were so excited.  What would this mean for us?  We had all come to believe what Saxir had said, that this new king was going to change our lives.  Would he ask us to rule with him?  Would we be given power and authority?  Maybe the king would give us treasure.  We didn’t have a whole lot of money left for the trip home.  Some kind of reward or high paying job could really come in handy.  
But if this was the king, what was he doing in this little tiny house in a backwater village in a second rate country?
As the sun came up, everybody took some time to clean up.  Combing their hair and their beards.  Shaking the sand out of their robes and shoes. Washing their hands and faces.  We all wanted to make a good impression on the king.
The last thing Leroy did before Saxir knocked on the door was to get out the presents.  Before we left home, the guys had all chipped in to buy the new king some gifts.  There was a lot of debate as to what they should bring.  I wanted to get something practical like a goat, but the boys would hear none of it.  They settled on three gifts:  gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold was an easy choice.  You can do a lot of things with gold.  Frankincense and myrrh are also nice.  They smell good and they have some practical medicinal value, but I really though a goat or even a nice camel would have been better. There was some argument about who should carry the presents, but it was quickly settled and then Saxir knocked on the door.
The man who came to the door looked nothing like a king.  You could tell right off that he was a regular guy, but Saxir asked the question, “Where is the child who is born King of the Jews, for we have seen his star at his rising and have come to pay him homage?”
The man smiled and asked us to wait a moment.  When he came back he had with him this sweet young woman and a beautiful little baby.  The boys couldn’t contain themselves.  They all cheered and then quickly tried to recover their dignity to make a more formal greeting.  Saxir presented the gifts and then Mary, the baby’s mother invited us all to stay for some breakfast.  She left the baby with her husband and the men all sat down to admire the new little king.  The other women from our group went to help Mary- but I just stood there staring at my husband.
All I could think was, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  This is why we came all this way?  This is why we emptied our savings account? 
I have sand in places that I didn’t know sand could go! I have a camel bite on my elbow and another one on my bum.  We thought we would get riches or power or fame OR SOMETHING!  But the new king of the Jews hasn’t got two pennies to rub together.
Wise men?  Forget it!  Stupidest road trip EVER!  And to top it all off, I’m pretty sure Herod has got some of his spies following us.  We are going to be lucky to EVER make it out of this stupid hole of a country!
Blessings beyond my imagination.  What a load of nonsense!
Leroy was going to be sleeping in someone else’s tent for a while.  I was so mad at him.
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But I held my tongue. 
After breakfast I went with one of the local women to help clean up.  She told me her name was Elizabeth and she was the little king’s second cousin or something like that.
Apparently I was banging the pots and pans around with a little too much force so Elizabeth knew something was wrong. She took me by the hand and we sat on a bench near the front of the house.  We could see the whole bunch of them cooing and fussing at the baby.
“Why are you so angry?  Are you in danger? Or did someone say something to you?”
I realized that for the most part, I wasn’t really angry, but I was disappointed. I had been expecting some one different.  Someone royal and extraordinary.  Someone powerful and majestic.  Not a chubby cheeked baby who was learning how to eat porridge.
Elizabeth laughed, which seemed a little rude.  Then she began to tell me a story.  THE story.  This wasn’t just any baby.  Mary and Joseph had both been visited by angels who told them that this child would be the Savior of his people.  He was to be God’s anointed one.  More importantly, Elizabeth said, Jesus was the Son of God.  Immanuel she called him, which means God with us. 
We talked all morning.
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Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore.  “But what does this have to do with me?” I couldn’t help but ask the question.  “Why would your God send a great big magical star to lure a group of foreigners all this way?  We’re not Jews.  We don’t share your God or your scripture or your law.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out why we are here.”
Elizabeth took my hand, “It’s not about you and your people.  And it’s not even about me and my people.  It’s really not about any of us.  Or maybe it’s about all of us.  This new thing that has happened is all about God.  It’s about God acting in the lives of all people.  With no exceptions. 
“We believe that Jesus was born to bring salvation to the whole world.  He is a light shining in the darkness for people like you.  And he is the fulfillment of all God’s promises for people like me.
"He will be a righteous judge and a defender of the poor.
"He will bring deliverance to the needy.
"His reign will be like rain on the new mown grass.  Like showers on the earth. And his kingdom will be from sea to sea.”
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That night we camped out near Mary and Joseph’s little house.  In the middle of the night I had this incredible dream.  In fact we all had it.  The same dream.  A messenger from God – from Elizabeth’s God – from Jesus’ Father in heaven – came to us with a warning. We should not go back to Jerusalem, because Herod was looking to kill us or at least lock us away for a very long time.  He would do anything to insure that we didn’t tell our story.  He would go to any length to make sure that we didn’t share the good news that a new king has been born for the Jews and for the whole world.
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The Bible says that we went home another way after visiting Bethlehem.  The truth is other than avoiding Jerusalem, we pretty much took the same route we had taken before.  The difference wasn’t in the direction we traveled.  The difference was in us.
We were different. We began living another way. Because when you know that God loves you so much that he would come to live with you, in the humblest of places.  It changes you.  We believe that Jesus is going to change the world, the whole world.
Leroy and I - we aren’t all that wise.  There’s nothing magical about us.  But we did follow that star.  And we did meet the king.  And we did receive blessings beyond our wildest imagination.
It was a good trip.  And we really did come home another way.

© Rev. Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath
Ashmead-Schaeffer Chapel
January 6, 2014