"Following a star, and finding a stable"

Even though many of us will soon be taking down our Christmas decorations and putting them away for another year, Christmas isn’t actually over until January 6, the traditional twelfth day in the familiar song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
Jan. 6 is known on the Christian liturgical calendar as “Epiphany,” which commemorates the visit of the wisemen to the baby Jesus. We often call them “kings,” but in fact, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew, in which this story appears, probably had something more like astrologers in mind. They were often called “wise” men or “magi,” which is the plural form of the word “magician,” because it was widely believed that astrologers could foretell the future by looking at the stars, and that these magi thus possessed special knowledge that ordinary mortals did not have. And so, says Matthew, having seen a portentous star in the sky, they followed it to the baby Jesus.
Certain astrological sightings were interpreted as meaning that something significant was to take place on earth, such as the birth of a king. And since they had seen this sign in the direction of Israel, they concluded that some event like this must have taken place there, or soon would.
Scholars of course, have long debated the details of this story. Since much of the holiday season is more about matters of the heart than matters of scientific fact, just suppose that the story happened just as it is described in the Gospel. Travel was treacherous in those days, even under the best of circumstances. And after traveling who knows how far, in the belief that something of cosmic importance awaits them at the end of their arduous trek, how do you think they might have felt to learn that their journey ended at such an unpromising destination? Would they have been at least a little disappointed?
They had traveled all of those miles, to see something as important as a king, talking and thinking all the way about what a great pilgrimage they must have been on, only to discover that what they had traveled so far to find was the child of an unknown peasant, who had been born, not in a palace, but in a stable! We are told that they gave the gifts they had brought with them. But do you think they might have looked at one another in astonishment and said, “Do you mean to say we came all this way… and this is all there is…?”
It is, after all, a common experience, is it not? Who among us has not at some time or other fixed our gaze on some high and lofty star, only to find ourselves standing before some grubby little stable. Is this it?
How often in life we end up someplace we never expected. We had these visions in our heads of how wonderful things were going to be, and how often it turned out that things were not that way at all. Perhaps it was a career that turned out to be unfulfilling. Perhaps it was a marriage that failed. A new purchase that didn’t bring the satisfaction we thought it would.
Following a star, and finding a stable. It happens to most of us at some time or other. And for some people, it is a very bitter moment when they realize that life is not going to work out as they had planned.
But reality for most of us is that finding contentment in life means learning to live with many things that don’t work out the way we hoped. I’ve never forgotten this bit of homespun wisdom I once heard, which said, “Things usually turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”
What a great thought with which to begin a new year!

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