Last Christmas, I followed the three wise men through a shopping mall.
When I left home with my sister that afternoon, I had no idea I'd find them there, let alone follow them through a tinsel-bedecked department store. But there they were. And they came to my rescue.
This wasn't my first encounter with those three kings. In fact, I'd been thinking about them since the beginning of last December when I was struck by the wise men's single-mindedness in following the star.
That is to say, not only did the wise men see the star, they knew it portended something wonderful. Something so wonderful that nothing, not distance, not the intensity of the trek, not even King Herod's demands, could deter them from pressing forward toward it â€“ and toward the child whose birth it heralded.
I like the way the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, put it: "Led by a solitary star amid the darkness, the Magi of old foretold the Messiahship of Truth" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 95).
As I thought about it last Christmas, the wise men's journey came to symbolize the power of trusting the light of Truth, or God, and not getting distracted in the process. It reminded me of the reward that comes from keeping my thought poised in the messages of hope and salvation God is continuously imparting â€“ no matter how arduous the journey of realizing those messages may seem.
But it was Christmas presents that were on my mind that afternoon in the mall â€“ not the story of the three kings. At least, not until I made a comment that my sister apparently found hurtful, and, in response, she flung a verbal jab in my direction.
So much for the Christmas spirit!
In an instant, I felt the joy of the season go right out of me, and it was all I could do not to run after her and engage. What did she mean by that jab? Did she really think that about me?
"God," I prayed, "what do I do?"
"Follow the star," came the answer, and I realized that this was my opportunity not just to love the wise men and what they represented, but to use them as a model. And that meant doing two things.
First, I needed to turn away from the ugliness of the situation. I needed not to engage with it. My compulsion to analyze, deconstruct, and otherwise fixate on the clash was â€“ like Herod had been for the wise men â€“ only an attempt to keep me from following the light. Yet, also like Herod, it had nothing to do with the promise of love and joy that I knew God had given me to follow.
Second, I needed to let the light transform me â€“ to so fill my thought that I couldn't be moved or impressed by anything else. Wasn't this the example the wise men had given â€“ both during their initial visit with Herod and after, when they never returned to engage with him? I knew that same light of Truth was there for me, compelling me to focus wholeheartedly on it.
Interestingly enough, when I did, the distractions â€“ my sadness, the impulse to engage negatively â€“ instantly drained away. As soon as I made the commitment to the light, the light rescued me. Instead of feeling upset, suddenly all I felt was God's love â€“ embracing my sister, me, and everyone in that mall.
Within five minutes, my sister's whole demeanor had changed, and she was her normal, bubbly self. We had a great time together that afternoon â€“ one of the best I can remember.
Today, the light God brings to our lives probably isn't going to lead us to an obscure manger in Bethlehem. But we can count on it to lead us to the Christ â€“ to reveal God's messages of love and truth so exemplified by Jesus. As I discovered last Christmas, that light is for every day and for all time. All we need to do is follow it.