Every day from May to August, volunteers monitor the entire coastline of North Carolina. They patrol the edge of the ocean, looking for turtle tracks.
The female loggerhead sea turtle leaves the comfortable domain of the ocean and ventures ashore to lay her eggs. Working at night, she finds a steep, wide area of beach. There she digs a hole about two feet deep and deposits a clutch, containing approximately 125 eggs. She covers them with sand, providing the perfect camouflage. Only her distinct track alerts volunteers to the possibility of a nest. Some two weeks later, she repeats the process until she has deposited as few as three or as many as five clutches.
Two months later, at nighttime, the hatchlings break their shells and crawl to the surface as a team. When ready, they break through the sand, flail about, then move toward the moonlight. Enthusiastic groups hold vigils to watch the babies complete their long march to the sea. As they move toward the glow of the moon and the reflection off the water, they are moving to their natural habitat, the ocean.
A few years ago, on Bonaire Island in the Caribbean, a group of hatchlings began to emerge further down the beach, close to the nearby airport. Confused by the bright lights of the runways and terminals, they began moving toward the airport. When they when stumbled upon a busy highway, they were all killed.
This year, a group of volunteers noticed that another clutch of eggs was beginning to hatch further down the beach, near the airport. Determined to keep them safe, when the hatchlings emerged, the volunteers created a human wall, effectively blocking the airport lights. The only light available to the babies was the bright moonlight, pointing the way toward the sea. All 112 turtles scrambled in the right direction and made it safely to the water.
Volunteers warn spectators not to interfere with the hatchlings on their trek to the sea. It is this exertion from nest to ocean that builds endurance for the coming swim. Carrying them to the water would bypass this strength-building exercise and lower their chances of survival.
“All of this happens quite apart from man,” as Catherine Marshall said. “Little man who struts and fumes upon the earth.”
It was the shepherds working the night shift who received the personal, angelic invitation. “Don’t be afraid,” they were told. “You will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” The accompanying angelic choir did not finish the final note before these shepherds began their pilgrimage to where He was.
Pilgrims still recognize the miraculous.
The Magi were men of great learning. They were wealthy and highly regarded for their knowledge of astronomy and astrology. They had identified an unusual star and discerned that a special king had been born. Their feet had barely touched Israeli soil when they asked, “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?”
Wise men still seek the extraordinary.
We, too, have heard the clear, stirring news that a child is born. We have not seen His swaddling clothes or touched His manger, but our hearts have seen Him; our hearts have heard Him.
We emerged, flailed about, then turned toward the light of His bright, morning star. We, too, found protection in a human wall: a lifetime of pastors, evangelists, teachers, and friends who helped mitigate the allure of the destructive lights. These mentors did not pick us up and carry us to the water; rather, they watched us strengthen and build endurance for our own trek, our own journey home.
Centuries later, His star remains the most extraordinary; His call the most compelling. The humility of His manger astounds us; the savagery of His cross woos us.
As pilgrims, we stake our lives on the promise that He came. As wise men, we recognize the poverty of our own wisdom and seek His. Still.