I have often been intrigued by different representations of the nativity star, particularly between the European nativity scene (often called the presepe or presepio by the Italians) and depictions more commonly found in the United States.
In Europe today, the version of the star of Bethlehem most often appears a comet streaking across the sky. (This is most likely due to paintings of the nativity by the Italian artist Giotto where he likely was painting Halley's Comet that had recently appeared in the sky in the 1300's.* It would have been very striking and still fresh in their minds, and so a logical visual to meditate on linking their seeking hearts and minds with that of the Magi.) In America, the nativity star most often appears as stationary star or north star with it's tail pointing straight down.
With a fondness for the 'star in motion' version, I chose the European version of the star for the majority of my prayer beads, perhaps subconsciously. Later, a dear friend (named Maria, providentially, and runs an amazing Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program!) explained to me as she teaches her students that the comet star, which is in motion, is the Advent star precisely because it is moving and leading us towards Bethlehem, so it is a fitting visual while praying this novena. The stationary star means it's already Christmas.
What a great way to enter deeper into the symbolism of both the star in motion and the star that 'stopped and stayed'. "After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was." [Mt 2:9 NAB]
So, while we are in Advent and praying the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena, let us focus on the 'star' that is guiding us to Bethlehem. Let's be intentional about what and who are our 'stars' or lights that guide us are, and not be fooled by all things that are shinny and distracting us from staying on the most direct route to Bethlehem.
Let us practice periods of silence to attune our ears to listen for the angels singing 'Glory to God in the Highest'.
Today, we providentially have the Feast of St. Andrew that kicks off this beautiful season prayer. In today's gospel, after we hear the invitational words of Jesus to follow Him, Andrew left his fisherman's nets and followed. Let St. Andrew also be another light and an example this Advent of how to 'drop our nets' to follow Christ and even invite others along on this journey of seeking out the Christ Child.
As always though, the brightest light that leads us to Christ is the queen of all the saints, Mary, our mother, who is often referred to as a star (as in the Stella Maris). We have no surer guide than that of whom the Christ Child was born.
We providentially have two feast days of Mary during Advent to help us be reminded of her role in salvation history: the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, and Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec 12. These feasts remind us that she was both chosen to be the Mother of God and our mother.
Let us take her hand on this journey to Bethlehem, that she knows so well, where we are sure to meet Jesus face to face, first as a small defenses child in the manger, and then as He comes to us each day in the Eucharist as a defenseless piece of humble bread, so that we may be forever united to Him.
Join me in praying this special novena (traditionally prayed 15 times a day, but not necessarily all at once) all Advent long.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel!
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Have a Blessed Advent!
*A very interesting read on how Western artists were likely influenced by the appearance of Halley's Comet in 1301.
First Sunday of Advent tip - if you have a wreath or circular display of candles, light the purple candle 'opposite' the pink one, in order for the progression of time to look accurate!
It takes almost a Herculean commitment to really enter into the season of Advent well, and so it seems there needs to be a time of preparation for the 'season of preparation'.
November would be a good time to prepare for the season of Advent. Not just looking for the Advent wreath or Jesse Tree ornaments (as I remind myself now to go look for them!) or do a deep clean of the house and rid it of clutter, (yes, I really need to do that too!) but to spiritually prepare for the battle for the senses that will come bombarding in once the turkey leftovers are put away.
Amidst the worldly noise and distractions, there are even, at times, well intentioned religious themed events, like Christmas caroling and parties during Advent, that only add to the busyness of a season that would better be focused on fostering stillness and prayer.
Advent well spent would be an intentional time of quiet preparation with focused joyful anticipation for the most incredible moment in human history, when God becomes man, born of a woman, in the dead quiet of a piecing cold night.
Be distracted or exhausted with too many events and we miss how quietly and humbly Christ slips into time so He can dwell, unassumingly, on our side of the veil.
"Be still and know that I am God" [Ps 46:11 NAB] would be a great verse to mediate on daily or use as an examination of conscience.
If we have a hard time being still and quiet, what is it that robs us of our stillness, our inner peace? What do the intrusive thoughts that repeatedly barge in tell us about what preoccupies us? What is our interior clutter that we should get rid of? Often little addictions can run wild while seemingly undetected and may need to be confessed or dealt with in other deliberate ways.
The seemingly harmless preoccupations or addictions we let ourselves fall into, whether it's a compulsion to check smart phones, reaching for comfort foods or drink, addictive thinking or behaviors, constant activity... pick your poison of distraction, we all pretty much do all of these to varying degrees.
They only ultimately serve to distract us from some pain or void that we resist acknowledging and bringing to the light, so that we can let God heal and fill us with Himself. We often hear that God alone can truly satisfy us, yet why are we still so willing to be distracted?
It may be a lack of will to really dig deep and rid ourselves of the spiritual clutter. But in a way, we could also be unknowingly intoxicated on these cheap poisons, so much so that we don't even realize there is something better that will truly satisfy us and consequently don't give God the room to do His work.
Which is why I love Advent and the St. Andrew Christmas Novena so much!
Advent is a time set aside specifically to spiritually declutter and prepare to receive the Christ Child, and the poetic repetition of the Advent-long Christmas novena prayer drills that 'hour and moment' of His coming into the forefront of my mind. There's no guessing what I'm clearing the cobwebs out for.
Intentionally creating this focus and stillness in my daily life allows for more interior space for Christ to pierce through that veil, 'at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold' and enter more deeply into my life.
When I give Him more space in my interior life, He crowds out the need for those distracting poisons. I give Christ permission to reign when I give Him the space to do so.
Which is why it is so fitting that the last Sunday before Advent is the feast of Christ the King, a great preview and goal for Who to focus on during Advent.
We can also take as role models those who witnessed Christ's coming in person. The simple life of the poor shepherds sleeping in the field and keeping watch by night could see and hear uninhibited the angels message of the Savior's birth. Those who had extraordinary means, the Magi, traveled great distances to seek out the birth of a great King who was foretold by following the star. The key to finding the Christ Child is in the disposition of the heart as being free from clutter and oriented towards God, regardless of external means, as we see in both the shepherds and Wisemen.
Another reason why I love Advent so much is that it's essentially a mini retreat for refocusing on what our actual daily life is about, a joyful anticipation and preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. Advent is in a way our everyday season of life. We just set aside a specific time of year to remind ourselves that we need to be ready to receive Christ when he comes again.
Let's be intentional then, and prepare for Advent with a commitment to fostering stillness, prayer, and removing clutter from our souls, so we can better hear the angels announcing the good news, that today for us, in the city of David is born a savior, who is Christ the Lord!
Learn more about the St. Andrew Christmas Novena prayer that is prayed all Advent long and its meaning.
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