You Be Glad at that Star!
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, December 24, 2007
A child shall lead them, they say. Often, it is our children who lead us toward deeper levels of perception.
A UU minister named Clark Wells tells the story of one day some years ago when he and his wife were moving into a new home, and were so busy with those things that grownups do (“busy with time and schedules, the irritabilities of the day, and other worthy preoccupations,” as Wells puts it). Just then, their three-year-old son ran into the house, telling his parents about the shining star he had just seen in the early evening sky.
“Yes, yes,” his father told him impatiently. “That’s nice. But I’m busy now,” his father said, brushing him off. “Why don’t you go back outside and play?” his mother added.
But the child would not hear of it. He knew what was really important. He was a bearer of glad tidings that couldn’t just be brushed off. In spite of his young age, he glared sternly at his parents, and at the top of his voice proclaimed: “You be glad at that star!”
Christmas is about the holy child—the child in the manger; the child within each of us—pointing heavenward and shouting at the top of his voice (and, paradoxically, whispering as softly as she can): “You be glad at that shining star!”
Christmas reminds us to LOOK—and to SEE; to perceive that which is really important—in the skies above; in our lives; in the course of history; in the season we now have before us.
What, exactly, did the shepherds see on that first Christmas night? What did the magi see? What did Joseph, and Mary, and all the rest of those present on that first Christmas night, see? And what shall we see as we join them around the manger, or around the Christmas tree?
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” they also say. So are a number of other important things in the eye of the beholder, as well: things like purpose, and meaning, and truth. And things like ugliness, and confusion, and apathy, as well. The shepherds, then, saw what was in their eyes to see. They saw what was in their hearts to see. That’s exactly what you and I are going to see this Christmas, and every Christmas of our lives. We are going to see what we’re hoping to see. Or, we’re going to see what we’re afraid we might see. We’re going to see what we’re looking for.
In every situation in life, we bring to it the way we are going to look at it—and what we are going to see in it. What we see depends upon the equipment we bring for looking—the hopes, ideals, prejudices, and so on that we bring to a given situation. Many times we do not see something because we’re just not carrying the right equipment to see it fully. Seeing and understanding—or seeing and comprehending—are not always one and the same thing. Very often, we think we’re seeing something, but we don’t really see it. We don’t really understand it, or comprehend it.
In the glorious story of Christmas, for instance, suppose the shepherds had not been able to hear the angels announce the good news of the shepherds. Suppose they had been in the midst of an argument over whose turn it was to go get the sheep way up on the mountainside, and so, they were yelling so loudly, they couldn’t hear what the angels were saying. Then that which they saw in Bethlehem would have been absolutely meaningless to them. Suppose later that day, they had just happened to be passing through the back alley near that inn in Bethlehem. Suppose they were to pass by the manger—but without the new hope they now had within them. What would they have seen? What would they have witnessed?
No more than an unfortunate domestic drama, perhaps. One like so many others. One of the shepherds might have remarked, “Oh my, poor girl. She didn’t quite make it to the hospital. She didn’t quite make it home in time. Looks like her baby is about to be born here in a cattle shed. Tough luck. I hope everything turns out all right.” Then they would have hurried off, and gone about their business as usual.
That is what they would have done, because that is what they would have seen. But because they comprehended—because they understood—then they really saw what was happening. And having seen, they rejoiced—and the experience changed their lives.
What will we see in Christmas? We will see what we want to see. We will see what we’re looking for. We will find in Christmas that which we bring to Christmas.
If we are fatally infected by the cynicism of this ironic age, we will see little in Christmas to get very excited about. We’ll go through the motions, but we’ll find little about which truly to rejoice. We will witness what appears to us to be another mad dash of money letting and hypocrisy. We will witness once again the sinister triumph of rampant commercialism and mad materialism. If we are victims of the skepticism which infects our age, then we will suffer through Christmas again this year, and bid it good riddance when it’s gone.
But—if we see Christmas as an awesome opportunity to rekindle within us the fires of our ideals—to rededicate ourselves to our deepest hopes and our most profound dreams—then we, too, like the shepherds, will glimpse the great miracle (the “glorious impossible”, as Madeline L’Engle called it) which underlies the Christmas experience. We will see something again of what the shepherds saw—and we, too, will be glad at that star. The experience of Christmas can, indeed, change our lives, if we let it.
In order truly to celebrate the Christmas miracle, we must approach Christmas personally and experientially; we must engage it heart, mind, and soul. Then, the deepest truths of Christmas can come to birth fully within us.
A poet named Angelus Silesius once wrote:
What will we see in Christmas? If our hearts have been warmed by the Bethlehem experience—if our souls have grasped the divine possibilities inherent in our human lives—then we can see what the shepherds saw—and what the wisemen saw—and even what the angels saw; we, too, can glimpse the birth of hope, and faith, and love within our world. We can glimpse the perennial rebirth of all which is best and most divine in our shared humanity.
We, too, can see what they saw on that first Christmas—if we open our eyes, and open our hearts, to the miracles that about in these amazing lives we lead. We, too, can see what they saw—if we dare to look up at the heavens, and dare to be glad at that star.