When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
So many times in life, as we discussed in the last reflection, we just spin our wheels, not sure of the end goal of the journey. Or we don’t set an end goal and we just exist. There’s lots of this going on in the world today. There seems to be an epidemic in marriages—so many of them are just not good. Rather than set goals together, a couple just exists, oftentimes unhappily. It’s the same with jobs—so many people don’t set goals in jobs, they just exist, and oftentimes that isn’t happy either.
On the other side, there are people who are so laser-focused on the destination that they miss out on the journey. These also fall into two categories. There are people who are so focused on work or school accomplishments that they never take a day off, or take time out to laugh. There are so many people who are focused on the future and what might go wrong, that they miss out on the present possibilities for joy. And sadly, there are many people in mid-life who just think about retirement and they basically do the minimum at their jobs for many years.
The joy, and challenge, of life is to have goals, to journey towards them, but also to enjoy the journey, to be focused when it is time to be focused, and to take time to rest and relax as well. We don’t know if the magi journeyed by day or by night. We might conjecture that they journeyed at night, because a) they would have had the star to guide their way, and b) on a practical level, it was probably more advisable to be awake and more vigilant at night. Any journey requires periods of rest. Though we don’t see the journey of the magi portrayed in the Bible, one would imagine that they pitched tents and made campsites to rest in, that they built a fire, cooked food, and sat around the fire and laughed during those two years. They probably had serious discussions. They probably talked about what they might find. The impetus for the whole journey was the star though, and when they saw the star, it brought them joy, and it probably centered them again on the purpose of the whole journey.
I hope that you have opportunities in your life to “sit around the fire and laugh,” whether that’s around a table, in front of a TV, on the beach, etc. I hope there are opportunities to talk deeply about the important things in life. I hope there are the opportunities to learn, to love and to live in many ways. And I hope that the star of Bethlehem is part of your journey.
The icon of the Nativity in the Orthodox depiction shows the background of the cave as being black. That is because the cave represents heaven, an infinite and grand space. The blackness of the cave reminds us of the darkness that existed before the creation of light (the first thing created) and that the Word of God, incarnate at the Nativity, was present at the creation in that infinite darkness. The icons of the Nativity show the magi, but not at the cave, but rather at a distance, making their journey to the Christ. The star is their guide.
We are making a journey in our lives. This week, we are again making our way to the manger to celebrate the Nativity. But in the big picture of our lives, we are making our journey to the cave, to the grand space which is heaven. Some people will probably see the blackness of the cave as a grand nothing, but as I gaze at the icon, I see the black space as a gateway to something grand, the gateway to a whole new world. I recently put an icon of the Nativity up in my office, the same icon that is part of these reflections, so that I can see the grand space each day. The figures around the grand space will help me focus on the journey—to be more trusting, or more obedient, or to worship, or to go, the topics we have discussed so far. If all I focus on is the grand space, some days I will see only something black. If all I focus on is the figures in the icon but never see the grand space, then I will see only activity, busy-ness, and I will forget the goal.
In our journey of life, we are to enjoy the things that make life full, the things we busy ourselves with—working, raising children, joy of relationships, etc.—while still keeping our focus on the overarching goal, the grand space of heaven. The two should play off each other—when life gets overwhelming, focus on the destination; and when it seems that the destination is unreachable, focus on whatever part of the journey you are on.
The magi had each other and the daily joys and challenges of the journey. And they also had the overarching goal of the journey, to follow where the star was leading them. When they saw the star, they rejoiced, and the daily challenges probably lessened, because they kept going on the journey, the star was enough for them to continue. And when they couldn’t see the star, because it was sunny or cloudy, they had each other and the daily tasks and joys which make the journey complete and fulfilling.
You rose from the Virgin, O Christ, the noetic Sun of Righteousness, and a star pointed to You, the Uncontainable contained in a cave. It led the Magi to worship You; and with them we magnify You. O Giver of Life, glory to You! (Vespers of the Nativity, Hymn in between the Prophecy Readings, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: When is the last time you rejoiced with great joy?