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!
For daily reminders of this prayer on Facebook, like and follow the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena and Prayer Beads page.
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!