Step-by-step we are making our way to Bethlehem. For this Advent season, this season held in the midst of a pandemic, many of us have journeyed with heavy hearts. Illness and loss, isolation and distancing have kept us in darkness, but somehow, we have been making our way. This dark time of the soul often finds us stumbling through the long nights into the weary morning hours. Left foot, right foot. Weeks ago, when I began this journey to Bethlehem, I wasn't sure I'd make it. What I was sure about, though was that I couldn't stay where I was. My heart navigated the hours of my days, and my spirit knew that this wasn't, this couldn't be all there was. I needed to seek out something else to guide and direct me.
"For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides," the Little Prince reminds us. Walking with a candle or a flashlight keeps us looking down, making sure that we don't stumble. Following a star, keeps our heads up. When we are following a star, our vision and our spirits shift. Things, little ones and bigger ones are somehow not the same, they've shifted. Instead of walking with our heads looking down, being afraid of falling, we find ourselves looking out and beyond what we see now. Following a star takes us toward what is on up ahead.
Many of us have grown up hearing the story of the Christmas star from the gospel of Mathew. For many of us viewing the Bethlehem Star on this Monday night brought the story to life. This ageless tale of the three wise souls who traveled from afar seeking what was not yet here. We grew up hearing that they left what was familiar and set out not knowing what or how, only knowing that they needed to make the journey. Left foot, right foot. Stories are particular and universal, both. Stories live in the past and sometimes help us name and frame what is our story now. We are told that they had no map, instead they set out following a star, up and out in the distance. Seeking to pay homage to the newborn who would bring peace, they were led.
Likewise, we, too have set out seeking something new to be born in our hearts. Grace and even mercy. Forgiveness. Restoration. Love. All along the way our patterns, our inclinations, our stepping-outs and stepping right-back-ins - - all of these responses have mattered. Times when we were intentional to take one step and the next. Times when we got lost or maybe just felt caught up in something else and meandered for a time. This Advent journey, this tender time we've spent traveling has quite literally gotten us from there to here. What might be helpful sometime is to name or savor or paint or sing where "there" was and where "here" is now. This season has reminded us that it matters to pay attention and to mark our journeys from darkness to light.
It matters that we didn't stop. It matters that we didn't give up or give in. It matters that somehow even when, especially when we felt overwhelmed and disheartened, we continued to follow what was just on up ahead. Left foot, right foot. It matters that we continued to look up and have the courage to take the next step. It matters in ways we might not yet understand.
Tonight, will surely be different. Christmas Eve in the midst of a surging pandemic. There may be small, outdoor gatherings, some streamed or zoomed services will be held. Somehow, we will lean into one another as we listen again to the story of a baby being born in a stable. Tonight, somehow there will be carols sung and candles lit. Tonight is the night to come in from the cold. This night is for each weary pilgrim who somehow found the strength and courage to keep following Bethlehem's star.
Whether or not you journeyed this past Advent following the star out your door, or on the horizon, or knew its presence in your heart - you have stepped out in faith. This star has been our place of holding on to hope. Looking up beyond what has been so desperately painful, we have kept going. Believing that a star would lead and guide us on has brought us to this night. This Advent journey has reminded my heart that what we have learned in these past days will lead us on and through into what is surely to be next.
"Time is different here," I heard my Mom's voice say a couple months after her death. Journeying through these Covid-19 days, remind me of the gift of those words. You are invited companion me on this 2020 Advent journey to Bethlehem, as we seek Emmanuel, God who promises always to be with us.