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      Star of Bethlehem: The star that guided the Magi to the manger of the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. Matthew 2:1-10 –

The star we bought as our new Christmas tree topper looked perfect.

Its purchase was borne of necessity since this year’s tree is slender and its tip could accommodate only the lightest ornament. Standing back a few paces to see if the star stood straight reminded me of one of the most mysterious stories of the season.

On any cold, clear December night, away from the lights of city or town, the heavens hold a spectacular array of celestial legends.

Many descend from Greek mythology, such as one of my favorites, the Seven Sisters, which appear as a cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus.

For those growing up in rural South Dakota with its vast sky, easily the best known group of stars was the Big Dipper. Four of the stars form the “dipper” and three define the “handle.”  Watching the Big Dipper change positions in the night sky through the seasons was enjoyable, but I often had difficulty finding the famous North Star, Polaris, which is the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper and north of its larger partner.

Now imagine you are a traveler more than 2,000 years ago and suddenly you see a star that is brighter than all of the others. You know right away it isn’t Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the heavens, because you are familiar with the constellations. You depend on them to navigate, by sea or land.  No, this star is far brighter than anything you’ve ever seen.

However, if you were one of the Magi, you knew that this new radiant light, this “star of the East” was the guiding light foretold by Old Testament prophets. But what star was it? Where did it come from?

It’s a topic that has fascinated Christians, astronomers and ordinary star-gazers like me for centuries. I remember as a boy asking my grandmother if the star in the Nativity story was the North Star, since that was a famous star and I knew it was used to guide travelers.

No, she said, but like the North Star, the “star of the East” had an important job to do. Unlike the shepherds, who were directed to the baby Jesus by angels, the Wise Men needed another form of help since they were coming from far away.

The explanation satisfied me then, and even today I know that some things are more miracle than mystery.

Merry Christmas!


Dec. 19, 2018