What I’d really like to give you for Christmas
is a star . . .
Brilliance in a package,
something that you could keep in the pocket of your jeans
or in the pocket of your being.
Something to take out in times of darkness,
something that would never snuff out or tarnish,
something you could hold in your hand,
something for wonderment,
something for pondering,
something that would remind you of
what Christmas has always meant: God’s Advent light in the darkness of this world.
-Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem
Looking ahead at the holiday schedule at my yoga studio, I noticed to my surprise that the studio was open for classes New Year’s Day. “Oh yes,” the owner remarked, “We are open the first day of the year. It is a big day in the fitness world. Everyone is feeling sluggish after all the holiday parties and they make new resolutions to get back in shape.”
Starting fresh is a traditional part of the rhythm of the New Year. As the calendar page turns we resolve to nurture new habits in our lives—even if we aren’t always the best at sticking to them. The New York Times reported that by February, eighty percent of us will have failed to keep our resolutions. Which sounds about right to me. I often start out strong but often fail to go the distance. Change is uncomfortable and life gets in the way.
Never the less, the New Year, just like each new day, is an opportunity to set an intention, to receive grace, and to begin again. This year, I am not only thinking of the resolutions about my workout plan, my diet, saving more money, or the level of organization in my life (all good things!) but about the state of my heart and my soul. Where is God guiding me in the year ahead?
In the gospel of Matthew, we read the story of the Magi, wealthy astronomers in search of a child. According to the story, they looked in the skies, saw an unusual star that guided them to Bethlehem, where it stopped directly over Mary and Joseph’s house. Matthew tells us that the star “stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy” (2:9-10).
If you think hard about the Magi and the star, you start to wonder, “How could this be?” Stars aren’t GPS systems and if they really stopped directly over someone’s home, they would incinerate it, along with the rest of the earth. True story. But this story, like most other stories of the Bible, isn’t all that concerned about straight facts. Instead, there is a larger truth that is being told. The Magi’s journey following the star of Bethlehem is not about the scientific reality of stars; it is about the search for meaning.
On January 5, the church celebrates Epiphany of the Lord Sunday, retelling the story of the Magi’s journey following the star. It is a time to open our hearts to where God might be guiding us in the coming year.
This year, we are continuing a new-to-us tradition on Epiphany Sunday. Each worshipper is invited to receive a star word on a star-shaped piece of paper (at random) as a gift from God for the year ahead. Recipients are encouraged to contemplate their word and reflect on how God might be guiding them throughout 2020. As we prepare to receive our star words from God for the year ahead, here are a few thoughts on making the most of them:
Instead of vowing to read the whole Bible by Easter, open yourself each day to the wisdom God has for you in small ways. The ancient spiritual practice of Examen asks two questions: What am I most grateful for today? For what am I least grateful? Slowly, over time, this simple daily practice allows us to be aware of God’s daily presence and see gradually where God is leading us. Try it with your star word, reflecting each day for just a few minutes on where God voice is speaking.
Keep it in Focus
Place your star word, your intention, somewhere prominent where you can see it. Tape it to the mirror in your bathroom, on the refrigerator, or place it in the center consul of your car. Seeing your star is a reminder of the gift of God’s presence and God’s leading in your life.
Start Over (Each and Every Day)
Let each day be a new beginning. The writer of Lamentations proclaims, “God’s mercies are new every morning” (3:22). Each day, by the grace of God, we are given the chance to name our short-comings and to begin again. Didn’t do so well today? That’s ok. Tomorrow is a fresh start. God keeps giving, forgiving, and inviting us back.
Celebrate (with Joy!)
Let you star word guide you to savor the sweet moments of life, the places of God’s presence, the moments when you glimpse both what already is and what God promises will fully be. Ann Lamott writes, “When we are stunned to the place beyond words, we’re finally getting somewhere” (Help, Thanks, Wow, 73).
Join us for worship on January 5 at 5pm in Founder’s Hall to receive your star word!