The engaged couple slowly made their way to Bethlehem.

The bride, Mary, was with child, a scandal worthy of snarky comments and unflattering whispers in Nazareth. The trip to Bethlehem would be a welcome reprieve from the ugliness back home.

The Roman emperor had decreed a census be taken of the territories controlled by the empire, prompting Quirinius, the governor of Syria, to ask everyone to register in their ancestors’ homeland. Joseph, the groom, was from Judea where Bethlehem was located.

As an out-of-work day laborer, Joseph and his soon-to-be wife had very little money for accommodations. In addition, people were flocking to cities and towns to register for the census.

Thus, they ended up finding shelter in a hewed out stable along with the animals and critters who made it their home. While waiting to be registered, Mary went into labor, giving birth to a baby boy. They named him Yeshua, “to deliver or to rescue.”

Biblical stories retell the extraordinary moment when Yeshua was born, with the heavens opening as angels celebrated and lowly shepherds paid their respects to the child some would one day call the Jewish Messiah.

Readers were even told of a special star emerging during this time, signaling that something exceptional had occurred. For Christians, this was the moment when the son of God was born, and the Word became flesh.

Regardless of your faith or tradition, the account of the original Christmas tale is a remarkable and inspiring story. It’s filled with scandal, intrigue, politics, economic disparity, religion and inspiration.

If there has been one year since the birth of Jesus that brought all of this together again, it’s 2020.

And guess what? The star is back.

Astronomers note that Saturn and Jupiter will be aligned tonight (winter solstice), leading some to refer to this event as the “Christmas Star.” The planetary alignment will certainly make a bright spectacle in the night sky, hopefully offering some reassurance after a very difficult year.

As we commemorate and celebrate Christmas this year, we do so with a renewed kinship with Mary, Joseph and baby Yeshua. Reflecting on their trials and tribulations, it is hard not to understand what the birth of their baby meant to them personally.

After a scandalous conception, a long and arduous journey, and what must have been a difficult birth, the betrothed couple must have welcomed their little “deliverer” with tremendous relief and affectionate joy.

Neither could have imagined going through the last nine months, but together and with the help of their faith they persevered and made it through.

Nine months ago, I sat in a Washington D.C. hotel as the news broke of a local priest infected with COVID-19.

I was aware of the virus and its dangers, but when the U.S. Capitol and Smithsonian shut their doors to the public, I called my wife to let her know this was going to be a big deal.

At that time, I had no idea how small that statement would be as 2020 was just getting started with its destruction and divisiveness.

Over the last nine months, the labor pains due to the pandemic, racial injustices and an attempt to undermine democracy brought us to the brink of collapse. The year 2020 has been a long and difficult journey, to say the least.

But now, the star is back, and Christmas awaits.

Sure, it’s going to be a little different this year. We will miss and mourn those we’ve lost; I know I am missing my granddad more than I could ever imagine. Families will not be gathering around tables for Christmas dinners out of an abundance of caution, but neither did the holy family have a table on that first Christmas night.

Mary, Joseph and Yeshua had each other though. Their bond and love for one another kept them safe and hopeful.

Their adopted home in the stable provided safety and security. Their new friends – humans and animals alike – honored the child with their presence but surely kept their distance from a new mom and her newborn.

The first Christmas night had to feel quiet and lonely, but the bright star against the dark night sky gave them all the assurances they needed that God’s hand was upon them.

More than any time in recent memory, I find myself closer to the frightened and fierce characters of the first Christmas. Their struggles and anxieties remind us of our own. Their long journey echoes the nine-month journey we have endured.

The injustices they endured because they were not privileged or wealthy force us to reflect on the injustices many people face today. Their inability to find adequate accommodation and the loneliness of the stable remind us of those without jobs and isolated behind walls.

Yet, the birth of Yeshua after such turmoil brought the hope of deliverance from those realities. The baby would become one of history’s great symbols for freedom, inclusion and justice. For millions of Christians, he became the great deliverer and rescuer.

Even this very day, the memories of his birth bring light into a dark world.

The star’s persistent light provides desperately needed hope – for COVID-19 vaccines to bring an end to the pandemic, for the possibility of real change when it comes to policing reforms and addressing racial injustices, for a new politic after four long years of divisive darkness.

Christmas 2020 draws ever so close, and I, for one, am looking forward to it more than ever before.

Yes, I will miss my extended family. Yes, I will miss seeing little ones smile when they open their presents. And yes, I will miss the pageantry the day has held in the past.

But Christmas 2020 will take me back to what really matters — a love and light delivering the world from darkness.

Shine on Christmas Star as the world watches with hope.

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