Zachary's birthday was coming soon. He thought long and hard about the present he would ask for. Birthdays came only once a year. It would be awful to waste a birthday wish!
"We are not rich people, Zachary," his mother had said. "Only one present."
Zachary knew his parents both worked hard. He knew his grandfather tried not to complain about the cold that made his knees ache because fuel was costly. Zachary knew that although his family had more than some, they were not rich. Somehow, though, it never felt as if they were poor.
"We have each other!" his father would say in his big, booming voice, lifting Zachary off the ground and swinging him up to his shoulders. Even when the fishing was poor and his mother's vegetable garden blighted with heat, Zachary understood that a family was much better than a wooden top or a new pair of sandals.
After much thought, Zachary decided what he wanted for his birthday.
He told his mother, whispering into her ear as she stirred the stew pot. "Zachary!" she said with a gay laugh. "What an idea! Better pick another gift. Perhaps a little carved camel, such as your friend James has." Mother knew where a smooth piece of wood was hidden that would make a wonderful camel. She went back to her stirring.
Zachary told his father. "Oh, no, son," he said. "Where do you get such thoughts? Listening to the stories of your grandfather? He is an old man and his mind is often confused. Such a present is not possible. Why not a sturdy little donkey of your own, now that would be a gift!"Father knew where such a donkey could be had in exchange for services. He continued swinging his hammer against the iron anvil.
Zachary told his grandfather. "Ah!" said Grandfather, and his eyes twinkles brightly. "An excellent choice! What could be better than a piece of the sky? What could be better than a star to call your own?"
"Mother and Father said that no one can own a star," said Zachary sadly. "They thought it was a foolish wish." It had seemed such a fine idea! Still, Grandfather had not laughed at his foolishness. Was such a thing possible?
Grandfather's voice took on his "story-telling" tone and Zachary settled back happily. Grandfather's stories of his days as a shepherd, spending long nights alone with only sheep for company, were always wonderful and, unlike Mother's, never hurried.
"I am an old man now," Grandfather said, "but once, when I was young--not much older than you, grandson--I too, searched for a star. My own grandfather, my Abba, he had told me what the prophets had said such a star would mean! I searched in the sky and, although I could barely read, in the words of great men. I listened at Temple and in the courts. Ah, they thought I was but an ignorant shepherd boy, but my ears could work just fine.
"I learned, Zachary, that there were many searching for a star, a sign that God had not forgotten us." Grandfather shook his shaggy gray head. "Those were terrible times, Grandson. Terrible times for our people. We needed to find the sign of God's promises."
Zachary nodded. "Father says that at the Temple the scholars still argue. Some say the prophecy of God has been fulfilled. Some say it has not."
Grandfather shrugged. "I do not have much in the way of education. I just know what I was looking for. I know that I needed to see a sign that we, God's chosen people, had not been forgotten."
"Mother says that God put the stars in the heavens to light the way for all of us. That no one person can own a star," said Zachary.
"Your mother is a wise and practical woman," said Grandfather. "But your mother is also wrong. She has forgotten the stories I told her at my knee, when she was very young. She has forgotten that our lives are not forever bound to this earth. She has forgotten how to hope."
"Why has she forgotten, Grandfather?"
Grandfather shrugged. "It is hard to be an adult, little one. There are too many cares. It is only old men and young boys who have time for dreams."
"But the star!" said Zachary. "You haven't told me the part about the star!" It was the part of Grandfather's stories that Zachary liked best, the part he always asked for. It was the part, Zachary reminded himself, that Mother said was just in Grandfather's imagination.
Grandfather was not to be hurried. "I'm coming to it, child. Many men, much wiser than I, hunted for the star. They studied the great scrolls of knowledge, they searched the heavens. Why, I heard that in Capernaum where there is a great telescope, learned men searched each corner of the heavens for years on end. Men from far distant countries also searched for it. They knew what the star would bring. It would mean that we had not been forgotten by God, but that he had sent his Son to us, to teach us and to help us."
Zachary's eyes had, as always, grown wide with wonder. "And did the Star come, Grandfather?"
Grandfather nodded, a faraway look in his eyes. "It come. It came on a cold and dark night, a night so silent that I could hear the heartbeat of my sheep. They seemed to know, too, that something was different. They huddled together in the night, their bleatings soft and scared. Then, suddenly, all was light! It rose up into the sky, so full of brilliance and brighter than any star I had ever seen! It was so bright that the other starts could not be seen at all! I stood and I stared at it and, it seemed to me, I heard singing far off in the distance. Even though I was cold, I felt the warmth of the light from the star. And I shouted for my friend Josiah, who was below me on the hill."
Grandfather was lost in his thoughts now. "And Josiah came running, his cloak flying around him, for he, too, had seen the star. We stood there, the two of us, just watching and listening."
Zachary tugged on Grandfather's sleeve. "And what about the sheep, Grandfather? What did they do?"
"Ah, the sheep, they all laid down together, one warm and soft ball, and they were silent, as if they,too, were listening. Josiah and I stood for a very long time, just watching."
"And, then, Grandfather? And then?" Zachary knew that the best part of the story was coming.
"And then, child, it began to move. Yes, the star moved! We knew, then, that it was not an ordinary star which stays in one place in the heavens. We knew this was a special star. It moved with all its brilliance and beauty, lighting the sky as it moved. And we followed it, leaving our sheep on the hills. Josiah and I followed it, and we were joined by others." He turned to look at his grandson. "Even now, when I think of it, I find it impossible to believe. A Star that traveled! Who ever heard of such a thing! And why should I, just a poor shepherd boy,why should I be allowed to see it? It was so long ago, child, that sometimes I think I imagined it, just as your mother says."
"But you didn't," said Zachary. "You didn't imagine it, Grandfather."
The old man shook his head. "No, I did not imagine it. It was real. I can close my eyes and see it still, that beautiful Star. The Star led us on that night, Zachary, stopping to let us rest, never ceasing its magnificent glow. Not even the passing clouds could hinder it."
"Where did the Star lead, Grandfather?" asked Zachary, who knew the answer. "To a palace? a castle? a place befitting the Son of God?"
But Grandfather did not answer for long moments. Zachary waited patiently. The story was worth the wait.