In this magazine’s first Christmas season, in 2007, we publish this real-life reflection from a writer now living in rural Pennsylvania, the Rev. John Emmert—who uses the end of the Christian Advent season to point us forward.
Of course, that’s one of the greatest gifts of faith, isn’t it? When we wake up each morning, and ask ourselves why we should climb out of bed to face another stressful day—faith is the light that draws us outward toward other people and our community. And, at the end of each day, when we wonder if anything we did truly mattered in the long run—faith is our hope that life is actually heading somewhere.
So John’s story, today, points us forward toward the Christian observance of Epiphany—and beyond.
John is now retired from full-time parish ministry, but he continues his lifelong callings including that of studying and writing. He is a remarkable Episcopal priest, having seen American life from a vast array of perspectives. In addition to his airborne perspectives as a licensed pilot, John has served parishes as far afield as Alaska and, for some years, Old Donation Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach, a congregation that first held services in 1637.
AND NOW, this holiday gift from the Rev. John Emmert …
A Star to Guide Us
SEVERAL YEARS ago we finally put up a big, lighted star on our house.
We live at the end of a cul-de-sac, and my wife and I had been keen on getting one ever since we moved in. We always thought it would be the perfect Christmas decoration for our house, and indeed it has turned out to be.
The truth is, it’s a pretty humble star.
I got the wooden frame with arms about four feet long at the Amish store up the road. Then I got some of those rope lights to put on it. The first set I bought was too long, then the second set was too short. Finally I figured out how to make the longer set fit. In the meantime, of course, I had seen several other ready-made stars in the store for considerably less money than I had already invested in this one.
Sadly, I next discovered that my ladder was not long enough to get the star hoisted up to the peak of the gable where it needed to be hung. So I had to improvise by getting up on the garage roof, then climbing from there up to the main roof and making my way across to the other end of the house.
Flying airplanes is my avocation, and I’ve fearlessly flown many thousands of feet in the air, but walking across the top of that roof carrying a star gave me very sweaty palms.
By this time my wife, Kathy, had come out to see how it was going, and alternately urged me to be careful and proclaimed to the whole neighborhood that she thought this was the absolutely stupidest stunt she had ever seen me attempt. Anyway, I crawled across the peak of the roof—a kind of crab walk with one foot on one side, the other on the other, keeping my center of gravity as low as possible and dragging the star along.
Finally I got to the far end, and lying on my stomach, with my head and hands stretched out beyond the edge, I managed to set the hook in the gable vent and drop the star down into position. Then I made my way back across roof and down the ladder where Kathy now waited. I got a big hug while listening to admonitions to “act my age and never do anything like that again!”
The last step was to go inside, lean way out the upstairs window, snag the power cord and plug it into the timer so that the star would light up morning and evening. Thankfully, it worked, turning out pretty much the way I had imagined and hoped.
It was the next morning that I noticed.
I went on an early morning walk, in the dark this time of year. On my way down the hill back home, I discovered that the star could be seen the whole length of the street. And because of the way our house sits, the star looks like it’s sitting just above the horizon. It looks very accessible, like maybe you could reach out and touch it. It looks like a star you might follow, to see where it’s located, to see how it came to be there, to see what’s around and beneath it.
I liked the idea. I always wondered how the Wise Men followed the star, way up in the sky where it’s usually pictured. Our star is down close. It gives a direction. It beckons. And so, this humble star has become my Christmas/Epiphany icon—and now, I suppose I hope that it will be a little bit yours too. A big lighted star on my house, pointing to Jesus, to all he was and is and might be, for us who welcome him into our lives. We Christians believe that God in Jesus comes to us, to our house, in our life, for the life of the world; that’s what we celebrate in Christmas and Epiphany.
I hope that you have seen God’s star beckoning you. A star which draws you to welcome Jesus to a new place in your life. A star which points to God’s grace and love and saving power—concrete, active, not just an intellectual possibility. A star that lights up a dark place in your world. A star that illuminates new possibilities. A star that points you to the one whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.
Could it even be a star that draws the leaders of the world from dreams of war and domination to embracing the Prince of Peace and King of Love? Often, it’s a hard stretch to believe in the light and peace of God’s grace in a world so full of nationalistic strivings and terrorist threats. Obviously it is possible to turn away from Jesus’ star, to love darkness more than light, to trust the flash of weapons more than the abiding presence of God’s love in our midst.
The light of my humble star is weak, but it points in the right direction. It is attached to my house, to my life; we yearn for the Light of Christ to be so fixed in our lives.
But the Christmas Star also has an even broader reach: Its brilliant light has power to draw, to invite, to guide, to raise up, to give warmth, to shed light, to proclaim God’s will to envelope the whole world in his love and peace, to be bathed in his glory.
May God’s light shine upon us this Christmas season, and through all the seasons of our lives to bear witness to our hymn:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,
God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory!”