Tonight, while setting up the village of cardboard houses that’s been in my family for over fifty years, my middle son asked where the three wise men should be placed. At the far left, I said, because they are only at the very beginning of their journey. Tradition in our home has it that various eager hands move the wise men a little farther along each day, so that they’re slowly inching their way past all the houses in the village toward Mary and Joseph, who are positioned at the far right end. It isn’t until Epiphany that the three kings finally take their place among Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus, having been led all that way by the impossibly bright star.
It occurred to me, retelling the story to the boys, how lucky it all seems for the wise men, being guided by the obvious star. I would like my life to operate according to signs and wonders, but it does not. But we find Bethlehem stars inside of our souls, do we not – if we pay close enough attention? Don’t we finally figure out the path we should take if we are watching intently, listening closely, even asking, for where the God-light might be leading us? So for us, the light is merely a metaphor.
But once, almost ten years ago, I prayed for a Bethlehem star, and it actually came. It was December of the millennium, and Chad and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary. Though I had tried to embark on our celebratory travels unencumbered, I carried with me a heavily burdened heart, due to a situation back home. Under an especially vast and black night sky, outside of our inn in Mendocino county, I prayed these words as I studied the tiny silver, sparkling wonders over my head: God, send me a Bethlehem star to guide me through my darkness, please! The darkness was an oppressive work situation and a general feeling of frustration with my purpose in life. I didn’t know it at the time, but the star was already on its way, as I would discover only days later, upon returning home: I was pregnant with my firstborn son, James (quite a surprise). Eventually, the extreme sickness of pregnancy, combined with the prospect of a new light on its way into my life, led me to quit my job, which was exactly the freedom I needed at the time.
I cherish this story about the rare and incredible gift of my own personal, Bethlehem star; and I cherish the Biblical story of the wise men. The stories remind me to keep looking for the light in any situation, even when it feels like it could be dark forever.
What are your Bethlehem stars?