In December, 2000, I wrote a little story for Christmas Eve, forgetting for a few minutes that the world didn’t really need another “little story.” But whenever I share this, people do show some appreciation, so now I share it here.

They called seven-year-old Jesse the star child.

That is, the people who lived in the homes near his in Bethlehem—

they smiled as they saw him night after night look into the dark sky

to watch the stars.

Jesse would spend the last few minutes before his bed time

gazing into the starry heavens,

wondering why some stars seemed to shimmer, why others didn’t.

There were some nights, of course, that there were clouds

that blanketed the heavens,

and other nights that the moon was so full that the stars hid behind its light.

and there were evenings when the smoke of cooking fires made it hard to see

the gently sparkling dome overhead.

 

But if there were stars to see, Jesse would find them,

and though he had long given up counting them,

he had never stopped marveling at their splendor.

His mother had warned him about getting a crook in his neck

from always looking up before bedtime.

Jesse’s father worried that his youngest son was more interested in stars

than in other children, their games, their friendship.

Jesse’s two older brothers and his sister

had grown bored with making fun of him,

and now pretty much ignored his nightly routine.

They would come in from the fields where they helped their father shepherd

the sheep herd of a well-to-do neighbor,

and they were too tired to bother with their starry-eyed little brother.

 

One night as Jesse stood in the front doorway

his mother wondered out loud if maybe Jesse’s neck might lock up one night

and for the rest of his life he would have to walk around looking toward the sky.

This was Jesse’s chance to ask again to sleep up on the roof.

That way he could lie flat on his back and watch the stars until he fell asleep.

And, he told his mother, his neck would straighten out nicely.

 

Most of the homes in Bethlehem had steps that led to their roofs.

And most had a wall around the roof for safety,

so that people who went up there to catch cool breezes

during summer’s worst heat

wouldn’t fall off.

But Jesse’s house had such a low wall

that his parents didn’t allow him up there alone.

He might now be old enough to sleep up there by himself, his mother explained,

but these nights are getting so cold…

maybe in the springtime would be better.

 

But Jesse didn’t want to wait any longer.

I’m seven, I have a blanket, and I will be careful.

The sky will be different in the spring.

I want to see tonight’s stars, he pleaded.

Over the past several weeks,

Jesse had noticed that there were stars clustering together, it seemed,

joining their delicate sparkles into a bright beam

that Jesse couldn’t stop staring at.

An old man who lived two houses away

had told Jesse one night that this was a sign of something about to happen,

something very important.

 

When Jesse’s mother saw how badly he wanted to spend the night on the roof,

she finally agreed, and Jesse rejoiced, dancing up the steps to the roof,

to scout it out before dark.

Jesse’s joy was short-lived however.

 

His oldest brother came home from the shepherd’s field early,

and announced that he was sick.

He gave his coat and shepherd’s crook to Jesse

and told him he’d have to take his place that night.

“But I get to sleep on the roof tonight, by myself, for the first time,

and the stars are moving together.”

His brother didn’t know what that meant,

but said Jesse had no choice.

They needed him to watch the sheep that night.

Sheep are more important than stars, Jesse’s brother said.

 

But then he added that there was no better place to see stars

than in the shepherd’s field.

“Once the sheep are put in the gate,

you can lie down in the grass and stay up all night as far as I care,”

his sick brother said before going to his mat to rest.

Jesse’s eyes grew wide at the thought of that canopy of stars overhead.

That would be better than being up on the roof.

At twilight, Jesse grabbed his brother’s staff, a blanket, and a hunk of bread

and he went out to join his father in the field.

 

The last of the sheep were being herded into the gate when Jesse arrived.

There was always some commotion, baa-ing and bleating,

wayward sheep to gather in, Jesse’s father giving instructions for the night,

and then, finally, things began to settle down.

It grew more quiet, and Jesse, being the youngest,

was allowed to wrap himself in his blanket and lie down to sleep.

 

But, of course, he didn’t sleep.

He lay there looking into the night sky bright with dazzling stars.

He knew where to look for the brightest ones, and they were of course in their places.

Then he saw the brightest of the bright,

the ones the old man had said were more than stars,

but a shining sign of something special about to take place.

Jesse lay there and wondered…

 

He had only wondered for a minute or two when his brother interrupted.

“Jesse, wake up!”

“I’m not asleep,” Jesse said as he sat up.

“Father has heard something. We need to stay alert!”

“What did he hear? A wolf?” Jesse asked excitedly.

“We’re not sure,” his brother whispered.

 

They all heard it.

It was no wild beast.

It was more like the wind, but… musical.

It was a sound like laughter, but not like any sound any of them had heard before.

As it grew louder, it was like a song, like the temple’s music, but happier;

like a wedding dance, but more beautiful, almost as if angels were singing in the sky.

Jesse looked again into the heavens, found his brightest stars,

and listened to the wind’s song.

This was the perfect place to be, Jesse thought.

“I never want to leave,” he said to himself.

 

But his father had other ideas.

“Jesse, come on; we’re going into town.”

“Into town? Why? What about the stars? I mean, the sheep?”

“We’ve heard wonderful news

about a baby born in a shed behind a house not far from ours.

I’m going with some other men and your brother will stay here in the fold,

but I want you to come with me.”

 

“But why can’t I stay here,” Jesse whined.

I don’t want to see a baby; I want to sleep under the stars.”

 

“Your brother has enough to do watching the sheep.

He can’t take care of you, too. So I will. Come on now.”

 

His father’s tone was harsh and Jesse knew he had no choice.

He sulked as he walked, but since it was dark it did no good.

His father and the other shepherds walked hurriedly into Bethlehem,

down one village road and then another,

speaking excitedly, laughing, and moving a little bit too fast

for a boy up past his bedtime.

 

They pushed their way through a small group of on-lookers,

and there in a smelly shed where animals are sheltered at night,

there was a baby in a feeding trough.

His father spoke to the man whose wife had given birth,

but Jesse went right to the infant,

bright stars and laughing breezes and angelic songs momentarily forgotten.

Jesse had seen babies before, but not this soon after birth.

The little one was wrapped up tightly, and all that Jesse could see was the baby’s face.

Tiny, wrinkled, red…little eyes closed in gentle sleep.

 

As Jesse watched, the baby opened his eyes.

“Look,” the child’s mother whispered, “he’s awake.”

Jesse looked into the child’s eyes

and was startled by what he saw.

There, in the clearest, brightest eyes he’d ever seen,

was a star!

Such a light in this baby’s eyes!

Brighter than the brightest star in the sky.

This was better than being on the roof.

This was even better than lying in the field watching the twinkling heavens.

Jesse couldn’t take his eyes off the star he saw in this child’s eyes.

 

Now, some folks would have said that it must have been

the light of a near-by torch reflected in the baby’s eyes.

Or the light that came from the cooking fire.

But once Jesse saw a star, he remembered it,

and he would never forget the shining eyes of that baby.

Because he discovered when he got home

that there was a light in his mother’s eyes, too.

He’d never noticed that before.

When he looked into his father’s eyes, sure enough, there was a star.

Even his brothers and his sister had a light in their eyes that Jesse had never noticed

until the night he saw the light in the eyes of the new born child in Bethlehem.

 

And there was something else Jesse noticed.

The stars in peoples’ eyes grew brighter when they laughed.

From that night forever, light and joy danced in Jesse’s eyes

and he always looked for that bright gleam in the eyes of people he met.

If it wasn’t there, or bright enough, Jesse knew how to bring joy

…and stars… to their eyes.

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