And He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
Most of us are familiar with the concept of a “contract.” A “contract” is a temporary agreement between two parties. For instance, a baseball player may sign a ten-year contract with a team to play for $200M or ($20M per year). But the contract is not a guarantee that the player will play for ten years or make $200M. The “contract” may have a no-trade clause which means a player can’t be traded against his wishes. But if a team is willing to pay a player more for his services, he might exercise the “no trade” clause. A player may regress in effectiveness at some point in the ten years and the team will buy out the contract, in other words pay the player less than $20M a year and just cut them from the team. A contract is usually pretty solid, but no contract is really a sure thing. Even the tightest contracts get breached or go unfulfilled.
A covenant, on the other hand, is a guarantee, and it is permanent. Marriage is a covenant relationship. It is supposed to last the rest of a couple’s life. It is to be taken seriously and not walked away from. Obviously, even the covenant of marriage isn’t permanent in all instances, and in an abusive marriage, it shouldn’t be. A covenant relationship is implied in the relationship between parents and children. A couple brings a child (or children) into the world with the idea that this relationship will be permanent. The relationship changes over the years from completely dependent to completely independent but the relationship is supposed to be permanent. And even this doesn’t always happen as parents and children sometimes become estranged from one another.
The only guaranteed covenant relationship is between God and us. We break our covenant with God each time we sin. However, He never breaks His covenant with us. God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and so they are. The context of this covenant being made was that Abraham lamented to God that he had no offspring and no heir. And God promised Abraham that He would give Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars.
God also made several other covenants with Abraham, which in turn pass to us, who are descendants of Abraham. In Genesis 12, God told Abraham to start walking from his homeland of Ur of the Chaldeans, and that God would lead him to a new land. This land is the land of Canaan, but Abraham didn’t know that when he started walking. He only knew that God promised him something special if he would just have faith, and God did not disappoint Abraham. That didn’t mean that the journey was easy. In fact, this covenant in Genesis 12 came before the covenant in Genesis 15, so Abraham trusted God all the while grieving not having an heir.
Another covenant made by God was in Genesis 17, where God told Abraham that not only would he possess the land of Canaan and have descendants as many as the stars (restating previous covenants), but He added that His covenant would be between Him and everyone who came after, all succeeding generations, and that He would be the God of Abraham and all of his offspring, meaning that His favor would rest on them forever. (His favor did not rest on everyone—see all the nations that fell to the Israelites.) Christ descended from the line of Abraham, and everyone who comes to Christ, whether they come from the blood line or not, all nations and all peoples who come to Christ become part of that covenant.
There would be a sign of the covenant though, and this would be circumcision in the Old Testament. Now, after Christ, it is an indelible mark of baptism, rather than the physical mark of a circumcision. It is a “circumcision of the heart,” as revealed in Romans 2:29 by St. Paul. Our hearts are now to be surrendered to the Lord.
God is our God, that is His covenant with us. He will never abandon us or forsake us. Our covenant with Him is supposed to be our love and obedience. When we fail to keep our end of the covenant, but we come back in repentance, He is willing to forgive us, because He wants to keep His covenant intact with us. He is, however, going to judge whether we’ve kept our covenant with Him. Yes, we will all violate the covenant through our own sins. Therefore, His judgment on whether we’ve kept the covenant will not be based on have we fallen away through sin—if that was the case, then none of us would be able to stand before Him. Rather, His judgment will be based on whether we’ve repented of the sins that have broken the covenant between us and Him and have returned to Him (a process that takes place an innumerable amount of times in the Christian life, which He allows to take place an innumerable amount of times—He always forgives when we sincerely repent). That’s why in this life it is never too late to restore our covenant with God. That’s why it is too late when life on the earth is over to restore the covenant with God.
Going back to the theme of “Guide Like the Star,” which we cover for one last time today, while we don’t explicitly read about a covenant between God and the Magi, the star was in fact the sign of the covenant. It guided them without fail to His perfect light. And the Magi chose to honor the covenant with their own personal covenant, to keep walking until what they were talking toward was revealed. They didn’t know when they started out that following the star would lead them to the Messiah. Just like there is no way that Abraham could know when he left Ur and started walking where the journey would end up. Just like we can’t possibly know every road we will walk down in life. God’s covenant is to provide us not only the path to salvation, but the means by which to walk that path—the Church, the sacraments, forgiveness, Scriptures, grace, etc. Our covenant with Him is to walk down that path but being involved in the Church, partaking of the sacraments, repenting of our sins, reading Scripture, etc. And we will fulfill our covenant specifically and simply by showing up for God each day. In whatever spiritual shape you find yourself in today, show up for the Lord, do your part to fulfill your covenant with Him. And don’t worry about God—He’s fulfilling His covenant in some way (though not the same way for every person and every circumstance) for you today as well.
The wise men concluded from their observations of the extraordinary path of the peculiar nova which had lately appeared and was shining more brightly than anything in outer space., that Christ the King was born on earth, in Bethlehem, to save our souls. (9th Ode, Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: Look at the sky on a clear night and think about the number of stars.