It is late, and I am sitting alone by the window, watching the snow fall on a midnight shift at the Children's Home. The kids are all in bed and sleeping. The other night I dreamed I taught one of them how to hold fire in his hand.

Winter and darkness bring solitude, strange thoughts. The psalmist writes that night with night shares its knowledge. Above the obscuring clouds and the drifting snow the stars might appear to turn in hand with wandering travelers of long ago. At night we still wonder, what can it mean? What signify, the half-heard music above the hillside? To what destination might the lights make their way in the sky?

Winter's darkness has fallen again. The earth on its axis is turned. In the fastness of night we remember the magi, imagine them murmuring to themselves while they poke about in their dens, kneeling at the hearthside stirring the embers and smiling in memory of another time when, on a foreign plain and in the company of shepherds, expending much enchantment, they drew themselves together before the child. The obscurities of prophecy had been made plain then in the skies breathing auroras over them, the air beat with wings on fire. And the stillness of it, the unearthly calm that had given voice to the question, so that we said aloud to one another, what have we done? What are we that we should be taken notice of so?

Snow is falling, fluttering on the air, a bright nimbus falling through darkness and silence to layer down over trees, fields, houses and lawns, framing halos for street lights, the choir on the church porch singing holy, holy, holy, lifting up the night in a drifting veil of white.

I sit alone by the window, grateful for a moment's peace, listening for the sounds of those in my care. Some of the children have nowhere to go for the holidays. I wish I could tell them, in words they would understand, that we are their family, that we could not love them more and that, come what may, there is nothing of which they should be afraid.

But they are all in bed and sleeping and so we are free to go through night and the mind's darkness toward Bethlehem and the one who waits for us there, nearer than breath yet far from the centers of power as mankind understands power. We must weave a path within the reach of fearsome sentinels who stand watch within the forest of dreams—unconscionable chimerae, they take no heed of us but gape at the air like bewildered things, compelled in their distraction by insubstantial images conjured for our benefit by the sorcerers in our midst.

Deep under cover of night we must go, following a beacon ablaze among the stars, a lantern carried there among the lesser lights—a solitary gem set there so to pierce the soul. So intent a purity commands a great price, a gift for a bride—but who is the bridegroom, and who is the bride?

The shepherds, that simple and garrulous people (though keeping their own ways, their sturdy wisdom) are oddly quiet tonight, shy of company, given over to contemplation. The curious thing, the remarkable thing: When one of their number fell to the ground, weeping and so disconsolate that the animals fell silent, the man crying aloud to his God for forgiveness, the others went to him and spoke in low tones of courage and faith to their fallen brother. When we asked them, what is the matter? they only smiled at us quizzically, nodding toward where the star led. They took us by the arm and would have had us incline our ears toward the arc of heaven, as though they could truly hear the music of which the old ones tell, the silent perpetual hymn of the circling spheres, ever present, ever silent.

Then, at journey's end, the child—what was the lesson, what were we to have known by the humility of his birth? No room for them in the city, and yet it seemed with so much affection that his eyes held ours, and compassion. Or do we only read there what we most love in one another?

Mother and father, their newborn infant son ... against all evil, the iniquity of men, doomed to corruption ... this: In the very death of winter's night, in the midst of dark ... the birth of light.

The magi nod to one another, comprehending. They ask to hold the child for a moment, no longer melancholy in their learning. They want no art to enchant now yet move the third heaven by their understanding. In time they turn to their respective provinces to go. We ask them to stay with us yet a while, to instruct us in the meaning of these events—the birth of the child and the deaths of so many that are innocent. They say they must go: There is much to be considered, the king's minions to be deterred. They tell us after their mysterious fashion that the abyss calls forth to the abyss, that the light informs the darkness and is not comprehended, and much else that we do not understand. But here is the child. Listen to the child, they say, and are gone.

Dawn, and I am still by the window, wondering what I have done here. The morning shift will be here soon. Time for me to go home, to leave the little ones in others' care. Awake, they would only shrug off my worries, and yet it may be that, while dreaming, they grow strong under the burden of our concern. I think I'll make a cup of coffee and pass the time, watch the news, until they awaken when I can tell them good morning.

Brian J Flanagan