Seeking Bethlehem

We walked through the small town and out to the bridge that sits resting just under the nearest mountain. The moon sat quietly above as though it had been hung just a short distance above the tallest peak. To the left of the mountain stood the town and its people as they went about their usual evening activities. To the right, a spectacle of light: as two planets aligned closer than they have for 800 years. As we walked into the darkness the lights around only grew brighter. Soon, the light of the moon was enough to see everything around us. The sudden invasion of headlights from a single passing truck shone so bright it hurt the eyes. But just as quickly as it passed we were left under the soft, shining moon once again.

We talked about the star of Bethlehem, as they call it. And of the night when Jesus was born here on Earth. We tried to count the stars but didn’t make it higher than 30 because counting can be pretty boring for a 4 year old. She sat gazing at the sky as we chatted about 4 year old topics of interest. But ever so often, interjected into the conversations questions like, ‘Which planets are those? Why does the moon follow us? Look! There are SO many stars! WOW!’ It seems her sense of wonder and amazement dawned on her once again every time her eyes adjusted and the stars looked a little brighter. By the end of the half hour she was ready to go home. But on the way she learned about those two bright things in the sky- Jupiter and Saturn. She couldn’t wait to tell her mom exactly what she had seen!

And the truth is, I felt pretty amazed too. Amazed that even though this wasn’t my first time stargazing, it was the first time I would ever see the star of Bethlehem. That for 800 years no one has set eyes on what we saw last night. At the miracle of seeing it this very week of Christmas as I try to keep my focus on the miracle of a savior born in a manger. There’s a danger in growing up. The all to likely possibility that we will lose our sense of wonder as we read the same Christmas story for the 100th time or find ourselves more caught up in the cheesiest hallmark movie or a slew of family traditions only to realize when it is all done that Jesus was more an afterthought. A brief moment of acknowledging the reason we claim to celebrate.

Living here in Mexico as a single missionary, I have often said that it doesn’t really ‘feel’ like Christmas here. There’s no snow or frost or cold weather. The Christmas music is different, there’s no shopping in malls all decked out in Christmas trees and decorations, and they have never even tried peanut butter fudge (my mom makes the best). How could this possibly be Christmastime?

But as I sat under the starry sky giving the gift of my time, my attention, and an impromptu telling of the Christmas story I realized, what could be more like that first Christmas than this? Not every Christmas will be spent seeking out the star of Bethlehem in a literal sense. In fact, it won’t happen again in my lifetime. But it can be spent seeking Jesus and bringing others on the journey. Whether it be a small child full of awe and wonder or a grown adult who thinks Christmas is anything but what it is, the reality of Emmanuel, God with us, will never be dull or boring.

So if this year it doesn’t quite ‘feel’ like Christmas: if you’re lamenting the loss of traditions long held or the chance to be with family, or if everything is as it ‘should’ be but you just don’t know what’s missing, take some time to tell someone about that Star of Bethlehem. Don’t just read the same old chapter and continue on to the presents. Let the real gift you give this year be the message that the angels sang, ‘For unto us is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord.’ Maybe the reason reading the same story over and over can become mundane is that we weren’t just meant to read it but to know it, to share it, to find the joy in proclaiming to those who have not yet heard of Emmanuel, God with us.

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