One night, very long ago, the Star-Hangers polished all of the stars in their keeping and hung them carefully in the black sky.
The littlest of them watched, enthralled. He paid close attention every evening, although he had to shield his face when the whole collection was laid out for the world below to see.
“Your sight will grow stronger,” the older Star-Hangers would tell him as they hurled fiery shooters across the heavens, “and someday you’ll be able to see enough to tend your own light.” He was too young to have his own star yet, but his dreams of it beckoned him forward with a pull mightier than the sun’s.
Tonight was a special night. Great golden orbs sparkled beside young amber spheres, while others shone in jewel-tones of the richest blue. They seemed almost to sing as they spun.
When everything was in place, they waited, each Star-Hanger by his star.
Somewhere far below the lowest reaches of their realms, a man named Abraham stood with his face upturned to the pinpoints of light, so many that they seemed to him like grains of sand on a seashore. He began to count.
In that moment, a word came from the Star-Master to begin the crafting of a new star.
It was to the smallest and youngest of the Star-Hangers that the honor came. When the Oldest Star-Hanger brought him the news, the Littlest nodded, his eyes glowing with glad anticipation. This star would be his offering to the Master. He would pour all the knowledge and joy he had gained from his nights of waiting into this gift.
So he went to work. His star began with an ancient spark, quarried from the cold, clear depths of the heavens. He wound threads of sunbursts around it so that it gleamed brilliantly, and fanned its flashing embers so that it would be seen by planet-dwellers through even the murkiest skies. For a long time, through many ages of man, the Littlest Star-Hanger worked at his craft, so long that his eyes began to grow tired and dim.
Finally, the night of the great presentation arrived. Carefully unfurling his fingers around the precious sphere, the Littlest Star-Hanger released his gift. He did not know what use the Master had for it; no Star-Hanger ever knew, until his or her offering was brought.
Slowly, the star moved. He watched as it glided into the horizon of the world of men. Eagerly, he strained to see what place it would find among its kin, and if it would move as he had planned.
The star was perfect.
It rolled smoothly for many nights, and then shone out dazzlingly against the velvet darkness. The Littlest Star-Hanger held his breath. The journey was over, the long work done; he prepared to station himself beside his star.
Then, without even a glint of warning, it disappeared.
Frantically, the Littlest Star-Hanger made his way to the place where he had last seen it shine. As he drew near, he stopped in horror. He could make out a small but unmistakably bright spot in the distance, glowing on the soft curve of the earth.
Never before had a new star fallen so far.
Never had he heard of a failure so great as this.
Disappointment welled up inside of him and brimmed over into despair. Around him he could hear the whispers and feel the gentle concern of other Star-Hangers as they stood by their handiwork and watched. What was he to do now? Should he go and stand where his star ought to have been, ever bowed and snuffed out in his shame?
He found he couldn’t move, not even when he felt the warmth of the Oldest Star-Hanger draw near.
The very old one reached his side, and looked long into the same corner of darkness from which the Littlest could not tear his eyes. When he finally spoke, his words were hushed.
“You did well.”
The Littlest Star-Hanger almost jerked in surprise. The Oldest did not turn to face him, but stood gazing at the light in the distance. “This is how it’s come, then.” he said, almost to himself. Rousing, he moved forward, beckoning to the Littlest to follow.
“You did well,” he said again.
As they approached the light, the Littlest Star-Hanger’s eyes ached at its piercing radiance. “How can this be? My star has fallen. I don’t understand why — and I don’t know how its light can shine on, even brighter than before.”
“The light we are looking on now is not the light of your star, little one. Look closely; right at the center, if you can.”
The Littlest Star-Hanger peered down. He thought he could see a small shape in the brilliance — a shape that certainly was not his little sphere. “What is it?”
“It is the Star-Master Himself.” The Oldest motioned to the sky. “Your star still hangs above Him — there, a little to the left. Can you glimpse it? It is because His own light so greatly surpasses lesser ones that you thought yours fell.
“Your star accomplished the full purpose for which it was made, for all our spheres weave a dance under the one great Light. For the past age we have known that He would bring a great gift back to the world of men; for that same age, many of us believed it might be a star, like yours.” The Oldest Star-Hanger paused, thinking. “Yet now I see that our greatest imaginings were too dim. He has brought them Himself, and though the world sleeps now, some will awake to see the brightness of the life He offers them.”
The pain was gradually fading from the Littlest Star-Hanger’s eyes. Below, he could make out the shapes of richly garbed men, riding on loping animals, approaching the light. “What will they do when He leaves?”
“He is not like us, young one; He does not burn into emptiness. He will go on showing the way when all our lights go out. Their world grows darker at every turn, but He is now with them, as will be until He gives word for us to throw our work into the sea. From this night forward, we will go on spinning and singing of the Star-Master’s faithfulness, but they will always have with them the better portion. Together our joy will be to make His light plain. Perhaps, like the stories we tell among ourselves, men may someday have tales to tell of this night.”
“Perhaps we or the works of our hands might even appear in them,” the Littlest Star-Hanger suggested, smiling.
But even as he spoke the words they were forgotten, for the oldest and the youngest of the heavenly keepers leaned forward together, captivated by humble splendor, awed into stillness in the night that could not hold the dawn of their Master’s coming.