There’s no star in our scripture reading for today, but today I want to talk about a star anyway. I have always imagined a star hanging brightly over the barn in which Jesus, the shepherds, the holy family and the cows and donkeys, too, all congregated—even if the star didn’t really appear until sometime after. To add to my case, there ARE stars on Christmas trees—in fact there are stars on OUR church Christmas tree!
Today I want to talk about a star, because I, we all, think about stars at Christmas, and because it plays a significant role in the story I am about to tell you—which is a true Christmas story.
So to begin. Before I became a pastor, I was a super-volunteer at a church in McLean, Virginia. No I did not wear a cape, but believe me, I was a super volunteer. One of the things I was responsible for at the church I belonged to, was Vacation Bible School. I was the director. One year, out of the six years, I directed, in preparation for VBS, another super volunteer, Diane, and I were stuffing envelopes that would go out to the parents of our Bible School participants. We were chatting as you do, right? In the course of that chatting Diane let drop something about her FIRST husband. Her FIRST husband?! That was a conversation stopper. She and her current husband were young, with young children. As young as she was Diane already on to husband number two!? This was news,
After we finished with the letters, we found a secluded place in one of the church’s classrooms. We sat at a table, and she told me her story. However, she didn’t begin by telling me about husband number one. She began by telling me about a memorable Christmas Eve.
It was when she was little. She and her younger sister shared a bedroom. One Christmas Eve, when they were say, 7 and 5, I say that for the sake of this story, I don’t really know how old they were—anyway, when they were small, and after Diane had been asleep for awhile, she woke up. We might suspect that the anticipation of Santa and Christmas presents was the reason she woke up, but I don’t know. Anyway, when she opened her eyes, even though it was still night, light as bright as the sun’s, was streaming through her bedroom window. She got out of bed, and tiptoed over. There in the window was a humungous star! It filled the window frame. Then, she felt movement beside her. It was her little sister. The two didn’t say anything. They just stood at the window together, amazed, awed, dare we say, star struck—looking at that Christmas light. Then, still without saying anything at all, they returned to their beds and went back to sleep.
So, next day, presents and all the rest. It wasn’t until a few YEARS later, that Diane mentioned her “dream.” “It wasn’t a dream,” at least according to her sister. She had the same bizarre, awesome, memorable, well, memorable memory. They decided it must have been the same star that hung over baby Jesus---the star that announced Immanuel—God with us, or if you want a direct Hebrew translation—Im means with, Nu means us and El means God. So, With-us-God. Im A Nu El. Either way, either backwards or forwards, that Hebrew word it means God here—God caring for us, God looking over us. Like Mary in our Bible story for today, Diane and her sister treasured that scene of the starlight-filled window, God with THEM, and again, like Mary, they pondered it in their hearts.
Ok. Now we are jumping ahead in the narrative. Remember, husband number one? Diane is very much in love and newly married. She and her husband have dreams of owning their own home, starting a family. And then, and then.
Diane said her husband begins acting strangely. By that, I mean that he slowly loses touch—not just with her, but with the world. With reality. Before I started working on this meditation, I didn’t know much about schizophrenia. Maybe you don’t know much abut it either. Thank goodness, it is a rare disease! Let me tell you, though, from what I learned this week, it can be devastating. Here’s some of what I read: Schizophrenia is characterized by thoughts or experiences that seem out of touch with reality, disorganized speech or behavior, and decreased participation in daily activities. Difficulty with concentration and memory may also be present. Treatment is usually lifelong and often involves a combination of medications, psychotherapy and coordinated specialty care services. Schizophrenia cannot be cured.” You know the movie, A Beautiful Mind, about the mathematician John Nash. He suffered from Schizophrenia.
Now I would love to give you a happy ending here, I know it’s Christmas! But I don’t have one—at least not yet. Diane’s husband received medical treatment at a mental hospital, and sadly, it was there that he took his own life.
At this point in her telling of the story, remember, we are in a church school classroom, sitting at a table, she and I, Diane is crying—not boohoo crying, but trickle-down, silent tears, crying. She is remembering being 23 years old and burying her husband.
But back to the story. The sanctuary where the funeral service took place, was evidently very different from this one—imagine a modern architectural design and several skylights punctuating a high vaulted ceiling. Diane sits on the second pew back from the front of the sanctuary. She’s crossed her hands on the pew back in front of her, and she has laid her forehead on her hands.
During the service, she is suddenly aware, of a bright light, like starlight, streaming through one of the skylights. Its beam falls on her head and warms her neck. It warms her soul, too.. Several mourners mentioned that odd light beam at the reception that followed. And she knew, her sister knew. Immanuel.
You have already pieced together the rest. Eventually Diane remarried, Paul. Paul had actually been a friend of her first husband. They have two children, a girl and a boy, now grown.
Sometime after she told me this story, maybe 25 years ago? My how the years fly! Diane gave me a gift. Not an expensive gift. It’s one of those florescent stars that you can stick on a child’s bedroom ceiling? It had a lot of meaning for me, as that Christmas Eve star has had a lot of meaning for Diane. Since she gave me that star, I have been through three moves, several massive and disruptive house cleanings, and two yard sales. I have held onto that star.
This week, as I thought about Diane’s story and considered sharing it with you---I wondered, “Where has that star got to? I haven’t lost it, have I?!” I searched through drawers, inside cabinets, and in a few boxes— frantic, to tell the truth. No star.
Then, just before I sat down to write this meditation, I thought I would give the house one final sweep. I opened my bedside table drawer. I promise you, I had already looked there twice before. THIS time, there it was! Right in the middle of the drawer, on top of some other stuff. How could I have missed it?
It’s Immanuel. God with ME. God with you, too. God with us. It’s a sign for us all. You can believe it! Amen