At first I think it is a plane, the first star in the evening sky. So bright, it seems like the pearled end of a pin stuck through the fabric of the sky to hold it in place. So bright, I can see it even though the sun hasn't entirely set. I am caught by the beam of it, ensnared, drawn in. The sky is banded with the late-afternoon ripeness of the sunset, burnt orange, gray-green, turquoise. But the star shines through, so bright I can see it glitter. I understand why we draw stars the way we do, with flashy points signifying the burst of light in the night.
This is the shortest day of the year. The first day of winter. As I walked home from the grocery store after lunch, the cold numbed my fingers, bare and hooked through the handles of my shopping bags. I hauled home my groceries: milk, juice, soda, a whole chicken for roasting on Christmas Day. I passed dogs wearing bright red sweaters and women in full-length fur coats. And now my neighborhood streets are almost empty, long before dinner time. The darkness has pressed us all indoors.
And perhaps because today has been so short, it has felt like one of the busiest days of all. I have run from one end of my flat to the other putting things away, hanging Christmas decorations, reorganizing cupboards. I have been writing and editing and revising. All the things I writer is supposed to do. My checklist for the day has been looking pretty good.
Then the star caught my eye.
Call me crazy, but this star is special. It is floating in the expanse of dark blue, the almost black, and holding my attention. It is calling out.
Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
I am dumbstruck. This is a story I know. My parents read it aloud to my brothers and me at Christmas. When we were old enough, they had us take turns reading it to them. Dressed in our flannel pajamas, we would stand at attention in front of the fireplace, holding the Bible with both hands, and we read the words with emphasis and character, the way we'd been taught. My brothers, in their white and red pinstriped pajamas, looked like characters out of a Norman Rockwell painting, freckled noses and blond cowlicks and all. Their lips were pink, their eyes blue. Even as they repeated the greatest story ever told, my little brothers were precious.
Thinking of them now, tonight, I am homesick in a way I haven't been before. I'm homesick for something more and different than a place. It's a time and a peace of mind I miss.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Millions of people believe that the Christ child was born two thousand years ago, and that His birth in a Bethlehem manger to a virgin teenager was the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy. Millions of people believe that shepherds in a nearby field were visited by an angel of the Lord and told to go, to follow a star, and find below it the newborn Savior of the earth.
It sounds crazy. Like the kind of story we tell children to make them behave.
The star is still glowing in the southwest sky. It reminds me that I believe, too, that I am one of the millions. Standing at the sill of my window and watching it sparkle there, a beacon, I feel like one of those dumbfounded shepherds, the ones who left their flocks to see if what the angel told them was true. All day, all year in fact, I've been tending to myself, the needs of my husband and home, and in all that tending it's easy to forget that the faith I call mine began with something so special. So unlikely. So miraculous.