He determines the number of the stars; He gives to all of them their names.

Psalm 147:4

On the second day of the Nativity Fast, the church commemorates St. Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist. The story of St. Matthew is remarkable, in that before he was called by Christ to be one of His inner circle of 12 Disciples, he probably would have been voted least likely to play that role. Why? Because he was a tax collector. He was hated by EVERYONE. He was hated by the Romans because he was a Jew. He was hated by the Jews because he collected taxes for the Romans. He probably had few friends, and even though he made a good living collecting taxes (tax collectors in that time were inherently dishonest, and would often arbitrarily assess more than was due to them), he probably felt invisible. And money can only take one so far. At the end of the day, if money is all a person has, if he or she has no friends, or doesn’t feel valued by anyone, it can lead to a pretty lonely existence.

Matthew might have been invisible to almost everyone, but he wasn’t invisible to God. He might have been despised by everyone, but he wasn’t despised by God. God sees everyone. He knows each of us in our journeys. He knows who is struggling to find his or her place in the world. He knows who is leading a life of sin. He knows everyone. And God loves everyone. He doesn’t love what we are doing necessarily. In fact, He tells us that those who live in a certain way will be excluded from His heavenly kingdom. But that is not a prospect that He relishes in. He wants us to make it. He wants us to love Him as He loves us.

Saint Matthew, once he realized he had been called by Christ, left the tax office, and his life of dishonesty, and followed. People criticized both St. Matthew and Christ for this unlikely match between sinner and Savior but that did not deter either. St. Matthew would go on to be one of the four Evangelists, the four people who recounted the ministry of Christ that we read about in the Holy Gospel. He would also be martyred for his faith.

The story of Matthew is so inspiring because it can be the story of each one of us. Each of us is called by God. Today’s verse from Psalm 147 tells us that God numbers each of the stars. There are so many stars in the universe that we can’t see or comprehend them all, but God can. Just like there are so many people and circumstances in the world, and so many challenges in our own personal worlds, that we feel like we can’t comprehend them all. But God can. God knows me, He knows you. He knows your secret struggles and private guilts, He knows your joys and your shame, He has given you a talent and is overjoyed when you use it to serve Him and serve others. He sees us at our lowest points, like Matthew cheating at the tax office, and He calls each of us, you and me, to follow. Matthew didn’t know where following would lead him, but he followed anyway.

The theme of these first four days of the Nativity Fast is “Guide Like the Star.” Before we can guide others on the path to Christ, we must allow ourselves to be guided on that path, by Christ Himself, and by others who have found the path. Like Matthew, we are called to follow in whatever state of life or sin we find ourselves in. However, like Matthew, we have to make the conscious decision, not only once, but every day, to leave the “tax office” (the place where we sin and go away from God) and go to Him. We have to ignore the ridicule of others who find us unworthy to follow or who find following God unworthy of their lives and just go.

We aren’t told much about the journey of the magi to the manger, only that it took them two years. Surely they must have stopped along the way for provisions, surely they must have told someone about their journey, and surely there must have been a few eyes that rolled, either in their home country, or along the way, about why they would “follow” a star to an unknown destination. We are called to follow, in whatever circumstances we are in. That’s what faith is, when we follow without full knowledge of where the destination is. And we are called to guide others, and encourage them, in whatever circumstances they may be in to also follow with faith.

Wherever you find yourself today, follow. Offer a prayer. Follow the commandments. If you fell into a certain sin yesterday, stay focused on avoiding that sin today. Any day can be a new day and a new start. Wherever you are, remember that you are a star in God’s universe. He knows your name. He loves you. He wants you.

Before Your Nativity, O Lord, the heavenly hosts trembled in amazement, as they watched the mystery unfold. For You, who adorned the sky with the stars, became a little baby, in Your good pleasure. You, who hold the whole world in Your hand, lay in a manger, a trough meant for beasts. Such was Your plan for our salvation, and thus was Your compassion made known. O Christ, the great mercy, glory to You! (Idiomelon, pl. 4, Royal Hours of the Nativity, 3rd Hour, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Personal Reflection Point: How did you get your name?