In Matthew 2:1-12, we read one of the traditional Christmas scriptures: the story of the wise ones who followed the star and came to see the new-born Jesus with precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
This is not just the story of the first Christmas presents. This is a story of seeking and finding a far-off treasure, the infant Savior. The magi were guided to that treasure by that star. That star still guides us to Jesus who gives us new life and hope. That star can also represent our goals, dreams, or vision of what would move us forward, and give us new life. Are you following your star? Are you moving towards your goal or dreams, or are you stagnant or adrift? Do you live with hope this holiday season?
There are always a number of people during the holiday season who feel quite adrift, as if they're wandering through life with no direction, no goal, no dreams, no star leading them forward. This can be particularly painful when living with HIV/AIDS. Sometimes feeling adrift comes from having no sense of family or community to anchor us with a sense of belonging. Sometimes it's because of severe depression. With all the bright lights, singing, presents, and expectations of joy that come with this season, it's easy to feel sad and lonely when the holidays don't meet your expectations, for whatever reason.
So try finding that star that will lead you to new life. What dream gives you joy? What goal would move you forward? Take the opportunity now to act on your dreams or goals, and that action, that seeking, that moving towards your goal will give you hope. For many people, the activities of giving Christmas to others creates that new life, that motion forward, and that joy.
When I was told I had eight months left to live in 1984, I naturally felt somewhat adrift. No longer did I need to be goal-oriented, or so I thought. No longer would I be able to dream big dreams, because I thought my life was about to end. I remember one of the most effective ways I found to bring myself back to life in that period was to celebrate Christmas in July.
That's right, in July. I got the idea from the first year I did summerstock on Cape Cod. The company knew that we would not be together on December 25, so we celebrated Christmas on July 25. After that night's show, we gathered around a Christmas tree, hand cut from the woods behind the theater. Through raiding the storage rooms of local department stores, we found all kinds of bargain-priced decorations, Christmas cards, and wrapping for the gift exchange. We sang Christmas carols, and reacted with wonder and gratitude to each of the presents. In the middle of a humid, hot summer on the Cape, we found that special joy and peace of Christmas. It was truly one of my most memorable Christmases, perhaps because it was such a surprise.
So as we approached July 25, 1984, I recreated that off-season Christmas celebration. I sent Christmas cards to everyone in my address book. I prepared special Christmas presents for those closest to me. I started bringing Christmas cheer everywhere I went. Some people were saddened by my out-of-season Christmas, since they felt my efforts indicated a belief that I wouldn't be around by the December Christmas. And indeed, I was scared that I wouldn't live to see another Christmas. But in my efforts to celebrate Christmas in July, most people were pleasantly surprised. There was an extra level of joy experienced partly because it was unexpected. There was also a level of poignancy to the celebration, which came from feeling that Christmas joy in the face of death, and this made the joy so much more meaningful. For me, that joy came from the activity of creating Christmas for others.
Thank God I survived to see many more Christmases. But I will always remember how I found joy that year by giving my own Christmas spirit away. The star that guided the wise ones to the baby Jesus guided me in finding new life as I faced death. After that first Christmas with AIDS, I now celebrate every Christmas as if this might be my last chance to let people know how much I love them, and how much joy they have given me. The gift I get in return is a real sense of new life and renewed hope. That's where the star keeps leading me. That's what faith in Jesus Christ offers each of us every day.
As we celebrate this holiday season, give yourself the gift of following that star. It takes action. It means movement. Don't just sit around waiting for someone to give you the Spirit of Christmas. Follow that star and find new life!
©1996 by the Rev. A. Stephen Pieters