I could wax into the night about how horses are faster, and camels travel long distances through the desert with less water, but to no avail. Every year, my three kids would each clamor for the elephant, each claiming they had never traveled on his broad back. Three wise men, three kids. Maybe two out of three had legitimately never had a crack at the elephant, but three out of three? Statistically impossible.
Each Christmas Eve, when baby Jesus was placed in his creche and the Star appeared over the stable, the journey would begin. In our house, this meant wise men rode their beasts along a circuitous route, with a child as their companion: through bathrooms; laundry room; the kitchen; maybe even a bedroom or two. They came from distant lands, avoiding the perils of curious dogs, until they came to the creche.
In her book To Dance with God, Gertrude Mueller Nelson wrote that myths were stories that might or might not be true on the outside, but were profoundly true on the inside. We tell our sacred stories year after year, and we teach them to our children, illustrating the main points with carved figures. Our churches are filled with creches not because we believe each detail to be precisely factual, but because the stories make essential points about our faith, and about how to live.
The kings didn’t have GPS. Siri didn’t bark at them to make a U-Turn. They simply looked up and followed the light. They journeyed to Jesus with the help of a Star, and they had enough wisdom to ask for directions. I imagine some of their daily talk was about the logistics of the trip – where they would stay, and should they stop to hunt, or to range off the path to find water. As kings, they undoubtedly traveled with large retinues. But they also had each other for soulmates. During long days and nights, I imagine them in challenging, invigorating conversations about who they would find at journey’s end, and what it would mean to them and to their peoples.
We are notorious for having the loosest of ties beyond our immediate families, and little acquaintance across the boundaries of status, race, and denominations. We value our independence. But I know (and I bet you do too) groups who gather each year for a trip: former classmates who reunite for an annual meal; hunting or fishing partners; friends who share a ski house. Even more commonly, we have co-workers and classmates who are with us on our daily rounds, or fellow members of a faith community. What would it take to find in these people what 17th century poet and clergyman Thomas Traherne called “glorious companions?” I submit that the first step would be to make yourself known to them.
Seldom does this season pass without a Christmas card from an old friend or acquaintance whose stories and photos describe a perfect family. Sometimes, I remind myself that their “outsides” will always look better than my “insides,” where my fears and uncertainties live. The path to intimacy and trust begins when we break the shell of perfection to admit we don’t know the way, and to share the profound truths of our insides.
Like the wise men, we stop to gather the wisdom of others. We follow the light of the star to discover and worship the divine. We kneel down and offer our gifts of deep gratitude for the presence of God among us.
The path will not always be straight, and on some dark nights, clouds will cover the Star. May your journey be with holy companions. Merry Christmas!