January 5, 2014
The star that they had seen at its rising preceded them. – Mt. 2: 9
During World War II, a young bride followed her soldier-husband to an Army camp on the edge of the California desert. Knowing that living conditions would be primitive, her husband had advised her against it, but she was determined. When they arrived at the desert camp, the only housing they could find was a run-down shack near an indian village. The heat was unbearable: 115 degrees in the shade. The wind blew constantly, covering everything with sand. For the young bride, the days were long & boring. Her only neighbors were the indians, none of whom spoke English. When her husband was ordered further into the desert for maneuvers, the loneliness & wretched living conditions got the best of her. She wrote to her mother, “I can’t take any more of this. I want to come home.” Her mother sent her two lines embroidered on an old family sampler: “Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw mud, the other saw stars.”
The daughter read these lines over & over again, & began to feel ashamed of her response to the situation she was in. Finally, she said to herself, “Alright, I’ll look for the stars.” In the days that followed, she began to make friends with the indians & take lessons in weaving & pottery from them. She became fascinated with their culture & history – everything about them. She also began to study the desert, & saw it transformed from a desolate, forbidding place to a marvelous expanse of beauty. Later, she became such an expert on the area that she wrote a book about it. Nothing else had changed except her attitude. By deciding to look for the stars, she had transformed a miserable life situation into a highly rewarding experience.
The astrologers from the East were not content just to look down & see the mud in human life (& there is plenty of it). They were looking up for something that could lead them to a satisfactory answer to their questions. Consider: the star was up there for everyone to see. But these particular men were able to read the meaning of the star, & were willing to follow it. Their lifestyle of searching, questioning, learning, being open to new possibilities for their life, is one of the strong traditions of the Bible. It was this spirit of willingness to learn & grow & expand their vision of life that led them to follow the new & living path that Jesus would open up to them. As one contemporary writer puts it,
“It is when love makes the greatest demands on us that we find our greatest gifts, our greatest oneness with life. It is then we gain a sense that our life has meaning & serves a purpose. The struggle to find love: that’s what life is all about.” – James D. Freeman
In one of her widely read books, anthropologist Margaret Mead (now deceased) presents the case history of a 15 year old boy who expressed his own perception of the struggle to find love. In part:
“There is mass confusion in the minds of my generation in trying to find a solution for ourselves & the world around us. We see the world as a huge rumble as it swiftly goes by with wars, poverty, prejudice & the lack of understanding among people & nations. Then we stop & think: there must be a better way & we have to find it. I have yet to discover what we need. I admit we should follow some basic rules, but first we should look at who is making the rules. Sometimes I walk down a deserted beach listening to the waves & birds, & I hear them forever calling & forever crying & sometimes we feel that way. But everyone goes on with his or her own little routines, afraid to stop & listen for fear of cracking their nutshell. The answer is out there somewhere. We need to search for it!”
Whether we are 15 or 80, each of us is involved in that mighty search. By virtue of our humanity, we are all caught up in the struggle to find answers to the great questions. It is a quest filled with risk & suspense. But the same answer the magi found is available to us – not a proposition or a philosophy or an economic system, but a person: Jesus Christ.
In the words of the Apostle John, we have seen “the true light that enlightens every man. (John 1: 9). We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1: 14). We have seen “what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God” (I John 3: 1). In the babe in the manger, we have found our clearest glimpse of the awesome mystery of life & love. When we resolve to “look for the stars,” we see the newborn child & like the Magi of old, we know that we are looking into the face of love itself.