Away from the lights of the town, the stars shine with more brilliance and depth. The longer you stare at them, the closer they become. Perhaps it's a trick of your eyes, but one star in particular seems to quiver and dance in the black velvet sky. The bleating of a sheep pulls you out of your star gazing and directs your focus back to the earth. The old man beside you is still staring up into the heavens, as if in a daze.
“It never works,” he announces suddenly, and with a twinkle in his eye.
You wonder if the night air is starting to take over his mind. “What never works?”
“Just try and count them,” he replies.
You return your gaze to the stars, if only to humour the poor traveler. One by one you pick the stars out, assigning them a number. Yet the more you count, the more they pop out of the blackness, till there is hardly a pinpoint of velvet left.
“Well?” the old man inquires.
“I lost count,” you admit, and are rewarded with a crooked yet completely sane smile.
“They're too numerous,” he says in triumph. “Yet there is always one you can pick out. You have to start somewhere, and all it takes is one . . . take that bright one just there. One star, one promise, one son.”
You wonder what he means. You also wonder about the star he pointed out, the same one you had noticed earlier. Even the shepherds around the fire are making mention of it. It is most unusual for this time of year, you hear them say. It must be a sign, one of them remarks. And then in a hushed tone, a sign from God.
“What do you think about signs from God?” you ask your companion. “Is there any way to tell if such things exist? How can they be validated?”
Now he is tugging at his beard, as if to bring back events and experiences of the distant past. Finally he speaks. “God gave me a sign in the heavens once. By it He promised the impossible. He wouldn't be God if the impossible were out of His reach, after all. Could I prove it? No. Did I believe it? Yes. I believed it with the same faith I began my search with. Without faith all the signs in the world would do no good.”
“So there is no way to prove it.” you say with disappointment.
“Oh there are many proofs. God likes to validate His word with His presence. He made more than a promise to me. He made a covenant, one that was irrevocable. At times I wonder why He did such a thing. I'm a human with miserable failings, full of fear, and many times I tried to take His promise into my own fumbling hands.”
You look down at his hands, now thick as leather, rubbing over and against each other to generate warmth. You think of your own failings, staring now at your own hands which have a journey's worth of dirt caked into them. “So He kept the agreement? Even when you didn't?”
“Yes.” The air grows silent between you. You are surprised to see a tear moistening the creases in the old man's face. “When He made the covenant, I offered a sacrifice. It was a night much like this. I waited in the darkness, not knowing what was to happen. And then He came. I saw the smoke from a fire I had not lit. And He said He would become like those lifeless animals if ever He broke His promise. There was nothing I could do to change that. It was more than a sign. It changed my life.”
His words stir up unnamable desire in you. There is something about this man that is wildly captivating. You can't help but wonder if your search holds a sign such as this.
“What did He promise?” you ask in anticipation.
Now he leans intently toward you. “A son in my barrenness. And so much more.”
Suddenly a light flashes above. All those around the fire instantly throw their heads back in wonder. The unusual star has exploded into blazing light, and it is not burning up.