By Amy Carr
Two days before Christmas, I held a friend’s four day old infant boy in my arms shortly after a tornado appeared in our west central Illinois county — amid a strange mix of sunshine, rain, moving mountains of fraying clouds, and a bright moon sturdily declaring itself as the clouds scurried aside and the sky deepened towards blue dusk.
I am thinking of the wise men. Foreigners they were — from further east in what we now call the Middle East — pushing through or walking around every barrier to their setting eyes upon the Christ child.
They duly noted the paranoid political leader in their day, Herod the Great, though only after unwittingly stoking his jealous fears that sparked a slaughter of male infants under two years of age. Herod’s gaze was focused on the prospect of his own diminishing by a rival king adored as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.
It has been a tumultuous December in my university community, with a list of over 40 faculty to be laid off, and more in a second round come spring. At the moment it is unclear how many of the layoffs will actually occur, and which of our academic programs will be eliminated. Will alternative forms of spending cuts be found? Will the Illinois state legislature agree on a long overdue budget?
It is tempting to compare Governor Rauner to Herod, although here the damage is through sins of omission rather than commission. Rauner has been vocal about wanting to privatize Illniois’ public universities and, in the shorter term, slash university budgets 30% and gut collective bargaining rights. It is as if Rauner is depriving public higher education institutions of oxygen and watching to see the ways they self-destruct.
Of course, blame for underfunded schools is bipartisan and goes back decades.
All the same, many of us among the faculty feel we have the wind knocked out of us, our work devalued. And our students don’t know if their state grants will continue to be funded by universities that are draining their reserves to front the aid money promised by the state.
So this year, I am noticing how the wise men keep their eyes on a star, not letting even their own mistakes in trusting Herod deter them. “Westward leading, still proceeding,” they are foreigners with a mission — not to terrorize, but to adore the One who comes incarnate in a newborn.
The wise men invest in a future whose fruition they themselves will not see with their own eyes. And like the prophets, they perceive that the promise of a Jewish messiah will bless the world — albeit at great cost.
During times when the fabric of communities is being ripped apart — locally or globally — I hope we too will locate the stars that remind us of what gives us bearings. The reality of things is determined not by turmoil, not even by home (the wise men had journeyed far from it), but by a divine gift that has arrived to be with us.
Whether this season is ordinary or extraordinary for us, may we journey with the focus and fortitude of the wise men. May we keep our eyes upon — and feet towards — the basis for hope testified to by ancient words of scripture and a strange bright star.
Journeying with the wise men, we too can find and hold fast to the Christ, who comes with the vulnerability of a newborn and the might of God.