Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Star for Zachary: Part II

At last, Grandfather spoke again, his voice low and reverent. "It led us over hills and valleys. Along stone paths. All that cold, cold night, the Star led us on. But neither of us--Josiah or myself--neither of us felt cold. We kept walking as fast as we could. We thought, like you, that the Star would lead us to a castle or a grand home. But it did not."

Grandfather's gnarled hands clasped together. "It led us into Bethlehem. Into the very poorest part of town. And in the streets of Bethlehem, Josiah and I saw many travelers, coming to register for the census. Even at night, the streets were crowded! I knew about the census; my father had taken us to register in Elaim. The King, Caesar Augustus, had declared that each man return to his birthplace to register." Grandfather had a sour look on his face, remembering that a census had been against the teachings of the Holy Books. "I remember that Josiah and I looked at each other in wonderment, but we did not talk. We kept on walking, following the Star. And, at last, it came to stop."

"Where, Grandfather! Where did the Star stop?" Zachary bounced up and down in excitement. They were coming to the best part of the story.

"The Star--that brilliant, glowing Star--stopped over a stable, a very poor structure cut into the side of the hill. I stood before it, the smell of the hay in my nostrils and the bleating of the animals in my ears, thinking that this could not be the place. It was too dirty, too common, to be the birthplace of a king! Josiah and I thought to leave and return to our sheep before morning. But then..." Grandfather paused and lifted his eyes towards the heavens,"...then we heard the cry of a newborn baby. And we knew. Those of us who had come--and there were many with Josiah and myself--pushed open the rough door and there He was, an infant in His mother's arms. The woman, his mother, she smiled up at us. She did not seem at all surprised to see a group of rag tag shepherds standing before her! She was so young, so pretty. We stared, all of us, and a man--much older than she--led us further into the cave and bade us to look down at the child."

"What did He look like?" asked Zachary eagerly. Surely the Son of God would be handsome and richly robed!

But Grandfather's answer disappointed him. "He looked like any other baby, Zachary. Like you, when you were born. Like your mother, when she was born. Like any other baby ever born. But then, He smiled. A tiny, newborn baby, only hours old, and He smiled. He looked into my eyes and He smiled. And I felt that I had always known Him, that He had always known me. I fell to my knees and I wept."

Grandfather fell silent, the image of the Star in his memory. Zachary closed his eyes and imagined the brilliance of that special Star. If it had happened once, such a beautiful, amazing sight, could it not happen again? Were not all things possible with God? "Grandfather?" the boy asked softly.

Grandfather's answer was equally soft. "Yes."

"If the Babe was God's own son, and the Star was sent so men would find Him, where is He now? Why doesn't everyone know?"

Grandfather sighed. "Some never saw the Star. It was a long, long time ago. Some have forgotten it. Once, about thirty years ago, there were rumors of a prophet who performed miracles. There are people who say He was the Messiah. " Grandfather shrugged. "I do not know. I only know what I saw on that night, what I never forgot. Remember this, Zachary, that God never forgets. He made a promise to us, His people. When the time is right, all the people in the world will know His Son."

"And the Star, Grandfather? Will it come again, do you think? More than anything in the world, I would like to see it!" Zachary's voice held the hope of a small child.

Grandfather smiled and laid a gnarled old hand on his grandson's head. "Do not give up your dream, Zachary! All men need a star to guide them. You are still young, little one, but not too young to follow a star, nor to dream of one."

Grandfather would say no more about the star he had seen. He spent the next few days in quiet thought and many times Zachary came upon him with his prayer cloth over his head. Zachary knew that his parents had forgotten his strange birthday wish. He saw chips of wood shavings near his mother's sewing basket, and heard the whinnying of a new donkey behind his father's workshop. But he did not repeat his wish out loud again, only thinking on it long and hard. If he could see the Star for himself, just once, he would know that God heard his voice, that he mattered.

The days before a birthday are long. Zachary helped around the house and in the shop. He  played with his friends and tried not to hope too much.

The night before his birthday, his mother came to kiss him goodnight. "Your big day is tomorrow," she said with a smile. "What a grown up boy you are becoming! Too big for foolish wishes, isn't that so? Zachary swallowed hard and nodded.

His father also came to bid him good night. "And in the morning, a birthday surprise, eh? I wonder what it will be!" he laughed. Then Father winked at Mother and rumpled Zachary's hair. Grandfather did not come to say good night before Zachary fell asleep, dreaming of dancing stars and singing donkeys.

The light woke him and at first Zachary thought it was still part of his dream. He sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes, realizing it must be the light of morning. But it did not feel like morning. His brain still felt clouded with sleep. He rubbed his eyes again and swung his legs over the side of his pallet.

And there was Grandfather, grinning widely, his eyes twinkling. "Have you seen your present?" he asked, but his hands were empty. Zachary shook his head. For a brief moment he forgot the day. "My present?" he asked.

"Follow me!" Grandfather beckoned and Zachary obeyed, tiptoeing around the pallet of his sleeping parents. Outside, it was still dark. Zachary thought they would head to the workshop where the surprise donkey slept, but Grandfather stopped midway in the yard and pointed overhead.

"There!" he said.

Then Zachary saw it. The Star! It stood high up in the sky, outshining every other star. It's beams angled into the window's of Zachary's house, shedding a light both bright and pure.

Zachary grabbed hold of Grandfather's hand. Neither one spoke.

"What is it?" asked Mother, her hair tumbling down her back from sleep. Father was rubbing his eyes in disbelief, standing there with Grandfather and Zachary. The beams from the Star enveloped them all in a beautiful light.

"The Star!" gasped Mother. She turned to Grandfather. "I remember you telling me of it when I was still a child. I never thought to see it. I had all but forgotten about it and the stories you used to tell."

"It's beautiful," said Father. "Zachary, I thought yours was a foolish wish. But I believe this Star is for you."

"For each of us, " said Grandfather. "The Star is a sign to all who seek God. The Star shines now, as it did long ago, for each of us. It will always shine, in our hearts and in our minds. And we must each, in our own ways, seek to follow it."

Mother hugged Grandfather tightly, then turned to Father. Lastly, she hugged Zachary long and hard, whispering to him, "Thank you for sharing your birthday wish with us. You are a wise and dear child."

"And," grinned Zachary, " a child with a new wooden toy camel and a new donkey!" Mother and Father laughed.

"But most of all, Zachary," said Grandfather, "you are a child with a star of your own to follow."

And, for the rest of his life, Zachary did.

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