“O Star of wonder, star of night.
Star with royal beauty bright.
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to Thy perfect light.”
The Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” composed in 1857 by Reverend John Henry Hopkins, has always been one of my favorites. Its inspiration, the tale of the three wise-men following a star to the manger, intrigues me to this day. In Catholic school, I was taught the star was a divine miracle created by God for the occasion of His son's birth. Now that I am older, I understand scientists' curiosity about the star of Bethlehem.
Some astronomers theorize the star of Bethlehem may have been a nova, a very bright, new star shining in the sky, or a supernova, a stellar explosion, both of which eventually fade from view. Still other scientists believe the star of Bethlehem was a conjunction, which occurs when two celestial objects pass very near to each other in the sky, often appearing to be one large object rather than two separate ones. In 6 BCE, Jupiter and Saturn passed each other three times (May, September, December); thus, a conjunction at the approximate time of Jesus' birth is a plausible explanation for the mysterious star followed by the Magi.
Frankly, the explanation for the star of Bethlehem matters little to me. Nova, supernova, or conjunction...I take it on faith the star existed, and I marvel at its power. Just think about stars for a moment. The definition of “star” (from answers.com) is hardly simple: “a self-luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravitation and emitting electromagnetic radiation by nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium in its core.” Oblivious to its scientific origin, we readily accept this fixed luminous point as a common star when there really is nothing common about it.
Stars possess remarkable power.
As my dear friend, Lynn, grieves the very recent loss of her husband, Alan, she is understandably not “into” the star of Bethlehem this year, or anything related to Christmas. Is it possible, her friends wondered, to sensitively include Lynn in Christmas and also honor Alan's memory? Her brother turned to the stars for the answer.
As his gift to her, Lynn's brother had a star named after Alan. Within a certain constellation in the sky, there is now a specific celestial address for a star named “Alan J. Korbel,” a gift made more meaningful by the fact that Alan greatly loved the stars.
The star named “Alan J. Korbel” will forever shine down upon his loving wife, just as the star of Bethlehem will shine forever in the hearts of Christ's followers. Indeed, “common” stars possess great power...to lead the Magi to a newborn King...to allow a brother to comfort his sister and a new resident of Heaven to thereby comfort his wife. A star can light the way through darkness in more ways than one.
“O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light
Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Earth to heav'n replies”
Peace be with you this Christmas season. May the Star of Wonder shine upon you.