When they had heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the Child was.
Most of you have not been to my house. If I was to give you directions to my house, there are two important details that would need to be exchanged. First, of all, I would have to tell you my address. There is no way you could complete the journey, or any journey for that matter, without an idea of where you are going. The second detail I would need is your location. How could I guide you if I didn’t know where you were coming from. What town do you live in? If you live in my town would you be coming from your house, your job or somewhere else? Point of origin and destination are two critical things needed in giving one guidance for a journey.
In every church but the Orthodox Church, the period before Christmas is called Advent. That season for everyone but us begins on December 1. Most of the world marks Advent in a completely secular way—there are Advent calendars that reveal one new kind of whiskey each day. The elf on the shelf makes his appearance. The Christmas decorations come out. Lines at the mall get longer. The stress level rises. Then Christmas comes and we overeat and overindulge. And then Christmas goes and we are left with a big mess to clean up, big bills to pay, and a new countdown starts for when we will do this all over again.
The Orthodox Church begins the Nativity Fast today, November 15. We don’t call it Advent, but rather the Nativity Fast, which is supposed to mark a period of solemn preparation for the Feast of the Incarnation of Christ. Solemn doesn’t mean sad, it means purposeful. We aren’t supposed to go about with sad faces. No, we certainly should have joy in this season. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put up Christmas trees or lights or shop for gifts or plan a big meal on Christmas. It means that we have to not forget the destination, which is not our kitchen table or the presents under the tree, but the manger and the greatest gift ever given to us, the Son of God, incarnate in the flesh, for the salvation of our souls.
Light is the first thing created by God in Genesis 1. Jesus reveals Himself as the light of the world in John 8:12. And Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:14 that we are the light of the world. In other words, the one quality we share with the Lord is light. Light is both the destination, and the journey. The journey of life is for us to be guided towards God’s perfect light, and we do this by being the light.
Going back to my opening about the two details needed for a journey, the destination of our life’s journey is towards the perfect light of Christ. The next detail is your point of origin, in this case, as reflects the light. Do you feel alive and bright in your journey? Is your light flickering? Has it gone out? Are heavy winds (i.e. temptations, circumstances) threatening your light? Each of us has a different point of origin regarding our light as we begin this Nativity fast this year.
The third ingredient in the journey, after the destination and point of origin are known, are the directions. The theme of the Prayer Team for this year’s Nativity fast is “Guide Us to Thy Perfect Light,” and will provide you a set of directions that will help lead you to the destination, which for Christmas is the manger, and for this life, it is eternal life.
Each week of this journey there will be a theme. Each theme focuses on one person or thing depicted in the icon of the Nativity. The theme for this week, beginning today, is “Guide Like the Star.” There are two aspects to this. First, we should remember that we are to receive guidance from the star. The star being the Lord. The magi travelled for two years following a star. It was their guide. Their destination was totally unknown. We know that the magi were guided by a star, we know that they followed it faithfully, we know now that it led to Jesus Christ, and we know that they had joy when they saw the star. We should follow in the same manner. The star is God’s word, which is sometimes confusing and overwhelming. That’s why we will focus only on a verse or two each day. The destination is known and unknown—it is known in that Christ reveals it as His eternal Kingdom. It is unknown because we don’t know exactly what it will be like. We are to follow faithfully and joyfully, even as we struggle to understand and can’t completely comprehend. That is why they call it faith.
The second aspect of this journey of Guide Like the Star means that we are supposed to be a guide for others. Remember that He is the light but we also are the light of the world. We are supposed to reflect Christ’s light to everyone. Looking at today’s verse of Matthew 2:9, we are reminded that the magi were guided by a star, by something that was above them, something that they didn’t create. They didn’t have phones or a GPS, or popular opinions to follow. They looked only upward and followed a star. One of the things we seem to forget to do is look upwards, towards God, toward the goal of the heavens. We spend so much time looking down at our phones, and across the room at other people, and we tend to get much of our guidance from things we read on social media or things we see others doing. There is the pressure to keep up. We can mitigate the pressure to keep up if we just look up, to God, to the stars, to the heavens, to the ultimate goal of salvation.
The theme of “Guide Us To Thy Perfect Light” will run from now through January 7. On the weekends, there will be two messages, the usual one with the Sunday Scriptures and an additional one with a meditation on the daily verse. This will take us to the Nativity and allow us, on the Prayer Team, to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, Theophany and end on the Feastday of St. John the Baptist, January 7. Each message will conclude with a hymn from the Christmas season, related to our theme of the week. And there will be a personal reflection point, a question to think about during the day. Have a blessed, and meaningful, Nativity journey!
He who was begotten of the Father before the Morning Star without a mother is made flesh from you on earth today without a father. Therefore a Star announces the good tidings to the Magi, and Shepherds join the Angels in extolling your immaculate birthgiving, O Maiden full of grace. (Kontakion, December 26, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: Do you have a “star” that guides you to Christ in your life?