December 17, 2016

The Star


Were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.

         -- T. S. Eliot, "The Journey of the Magi"

Theirs was the Age of Myth; a world where night was not dimmed by the web of lights that now obscures the stars. Their nights were lit by flaring torches, dim oil lamps, guttering candles; by the phases of the moon and the broad shimmering river of the Milky Way. As the sun declined and night ascended, life withdrew into shuttered and barred homes. Only the very rich or the very poor were abroad in the dark.

The night sky, now so thin and distant, so seldom really seen, was to them as thick and close as a handful of coal studded with diamonds. They could turn it in their mind's eye even as it turned above them. They reclined on their hill sides, their roofs, or in rooms built for viewing and marking the moon and the stars. They watched it all revolve above them and sang the centuries down. They remembered. They kept records and told tales. They saw beings in the heavens -- gods and animals, giants and insects, all sparking the origins of myth -- and they knew that in some way all was connected to all; as above, so below, "on Earth as it is in Heaven". They studied the patterns of it all and from those repeating patterns fashioned our first science, astrology.

And, like all our other celebrated sciences since, they looked to astrology to give them hints about the future, about what they should do, what they should expect, what they should become. They looked to their science then, as many look to their science now, to remove their doubt.

In time stronger, more intricately argued sciences would rise upon the structures of the proto-sciences of astrology and alchemy; sciences that chained demons with data. These new data-based sciences would push the first sciences into the realm of myth, speculation, superstition and popular fantasy. And, as it is with our advertising, promise, big promise is the soul of our brave new sciences.

The new sciences, you see, are much, much more about "Reality" than the old sciences. They will never be tossed aside as so many playthings of mankind's youth. The authority of our astronomy, our biology, our physics, our chemistry and others is, we fervently believe, as certain as the pole star. Unlike astrology and alchemy, they will never be questioned; they will be built upon.

It is a central tenet of our faith in science that the new will encompass the old in one endless and eternal conservation of sense and sensibility. In this cathedral we worship a database. We can see outward to the edge of what is, and downward into time was to (almost) the moment of Creation. We can see inward into (almost) the mute heart of matter. We have the proven method. We have the hard evidence. We know that nothing is, in time, beyond our knowing. All doubt has been removed. We are the Alpha and Omega. Our science is now as eternal and as deeply grounded in truth as... well, as astrology was in 5 B.C.

Somewhere around 5 B.C. three of the world's leading astronomers/astrologers noticed something unusual in the sky. It could have been a comet. It could have been a supernova. It could have been a rare conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Whatever it was, it was strange enough for them to travel towards it. Or so it is said. Or so it is written. Or so it is remembered from the time of myth.

Myth or history? What is the reality of this road trip towards an obscure birth in a wretched town, during a not very pleasant passage in history, over 2,000 years in our past?

We do not know. We cannot know. As it is in so much else that we ignore it is not given to us to know.

We have only shards of pottery and fragments of texts snatched from desert caves or teased out of the soil with tin trowels and brushes. We have only the sifted detritus of history; a global jigsaw puzzle where ninety-nine percent of the pieces have long gone to dust.

Our past is a handful of ashes. It is beyond our gift to ever know the difference between an inspiring folk tale and the eyewitness accounts of something that, even today, would occupy the realm of the miraculous. For today, in the realm of the mysteries, we no longer have any time for the good or the beautiful; we have no time for miracles. We have only time for denigration.

In 2004 Time and Newsweek, endeavored, in their ham-fisted way, to gin up some circulation with articles that purported to "examine" the miracles surrounding the intersection of the divine with a world now buried two millennia deep in the ash of the Earth. We shall probably see the same sort of thing this year. The cheapening of the spirit in this culture,"the expense of reason in a waste of shame," by those whose lamp of the soul burns low, is now as predicable as the winter solstice.

In the manner of these publications, and the habits of the sodden intellects that grind them out for small silver, a lot of time was spent on the "question" of the Virginity of Mary, the mother of Christ. It's a scurrilous bit of work. A "hit piece" on Mary, in the jargon of the magazine trade. For all the preening of these publications, the articles were just two chunks of thinly veiled anti-Christian porn, sops to secular hedonists in search of a cheap thrill by imbibing another hit of their favorite pap. These kinds of magazine articles always strike a chord of sadness in me, because I know at last the true cost of creating them. They are a curious kind of self-damnation in life, and, as a result, a waste of life.

Beneath all the buffed prose and appeals to experts and phoned-in quotes from scholars, the articles rose to little more than the coarse chortling of fraternity boys in the early drunken hours of the morning: "A virgin? Right! Sure. Any wife'd tell her husband that if she suddenly..."

In the offices of Time and Newsweek, there is no room for wonder beyond the fact that, for fewer people every passing year, they are still publishing and still making payroll. So far. Anything else, anything that might have within it the spark of the divine, is fit for nothing except denigration. This belief squats at the cold dead center of their editorial philosophy, a philosophy they share with untold millions of our coarsened fellow citizens. And still they cannot comprehend why year after year, no matter how cheap they price their subscriptions, their circulation continues to decline. In none of their editorial meetings do any of those attending look about them and declare that they have become "an alien people clutching their gods" in a land that finds them more and more dispensable.

We will leave them in their conference rooms high above the Avenue of the Americas, and wish them a "Happy Holiday. Have a good one." It is far more interesting to ponder, instead, those ancient ancestors who had no doubts that what they had seen in the heavens was unusual enough to travel.

In 5 B.C. "travel" was not something undertaken lightly. It involved, across distances that would seem trivial today, risks of life and death at every turn. It required wealth and endurance. Few traveled for pleasure. To travel at all required a motivation far beyond the ordinary. So, at the very least, while we cannot know what was in the sky in those days, we can be certain it was something very unusual.

In his short story, "The Star," Arthur C. Clarke's Jesuit narrator of the far future discovers the remnants of a civilization destroyed by a violent nova so that its light might announce the birth of Christ on Earth. The story has that ironic twist that is popular with authors and pleasing to readers. I remember it as making an impression on me when I was around 12 years old. But the story does not age well because the science of it, like all science, does not age well. The story is just 53 years old.

In 1957, when I was twelve years old, we all lived in a far smaller universe with far fewer stars for God to destroy by way of cosmic birth announcements. Now that the inventory of His stars has increased a billion fold, I think it is safe to say He could have found one to suit His purpose that didn't involve destroying a blameless alien race. He could simply pick one deeper in the field and, well, ramp up the volume. That sort of thing is just an afterthought once You've got omnipotence. It might even do double duty if You could use a star in an area that might need a few more heavy elements across the next brief one or two billion years of Your plan.

Sages and mystics, Eliot and Clarke, and a host of others have all had their turns with the story of The Star. In the end it remains what it was when it began, a story. The story of a road trip by three astrologers, kings, wise men. A journey by men who saw something special in the heavens and determined to follow it wherever it led, no matter what the cost.

To see something special. To see something beyond yourself and your imaginings. To follow it wherever it leads. To always remain prepared for miracle. That is the inner music of the story of The Star. Like all stories that survive, it is the music of the heart and not of the head, and like the heart, it will endure.

"Were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt."

To have "evidence and no doubt." That is what those that put themselves forward as our "wise men" seem to propose to us day after day from their sterile rooms high above the avenues. They have the "data" from which we should derive, they insist, doubt about all that for which they have no evidence, no data.

First and foremost in their blinded vision is their iron requirement that we should doubt the original myths that have made us and sustained us as individuals and as a people across the centuries. In their pointless world, they would have us cast off the old myths and embrace their "new and improved myths -- complete with evidence;" myths made of purposeless matter "hovering in the dark."

And seeing what these "wise men" have become, we turn. We turn away.

Instead, every year a bit more it seems, a tide has shifted in the hearts of men and we turn like a lodestone to the deeper myths of the human heart; that place where The Star will always shine -- always within and yet always beyond us. In the end, the Mystery is the Gift.

Posted by Vanderleun at December 17, 2016 1:18 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Dang! but I'm glad neither you nor I are as smart as all those Big City KnowItAlls. I re-read Thomas Kuhn last year, and realized how incomplete all our vaunted science really is: Our science was eternal and as deeply ground in truth as... well, as astrology was in 5 B.C.

Where do these journalists, who barely passed freshman bio and bonehead stats, get off preaching Revealed Scientific Wisdom to us in the cheap seats? Hasn't it ever occurred to them that some of their classmates--cum laude grads in the sciences--aren't journalists, and know just how ignorant and patronizing their articles are?

As I wrote in a blog about a much more trivial matter: "...if I had just downed a pitcher of beer, and met an AP reporter who was on fire, I'd excuse myself and go to the men's room."

Posted by: Mike Anderson at December 18, 2006 9:50 PM

Holy Moly, I wish I could write like this... Amazing!

Posted by: dave at December 19, 2006 5:47 PM

That was a nice essay, Gerard.

Incidentally, a few years ago I read a book review in Sky & Telescope magazine. For centuries astronomers have tried to find an astronomical explanation for the Star of Bethlehem, but none of the hypotheses have been satisfactory. The book's author tried to consider what Middle Eastern astrologers 2000 years ago would have considered important. His hypothesis, therefore, is that the "star" was not an actual apparition in the sky but rather a horoscope predicting the birth of a great king. He even gives a date: April 17, 6 B.C.

Here is a link to Sky & Telescope's page featuring an excerpt of the article. Unfortunately there is a fee for the whole thing.

Here is the info about the book (I tried to link it on but hates Safari for some reason):

The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi by Michael R. Molnar (Rutgers University Press, 1999). 208 pages. ISBN 0-8135-2701-5.

Posted by: rickl at December 19, 2006 6:39 PM

Ah, yes. This is why you're in my links. Well done, sir.

Posted by: B. Durbin at December 19, 2006 8:01 PM

To expand on my earlier comment: I'll have to type this by hand because no alternative exists, and because this is too important to let drop. The following is from the Sky & Telescope review, by Bradley E. Schaefer (I have not read the book):

"The first two advances are merely correcting a typical error made in historical studies. Evaluating old societies by modern standards and assigning motivations to historical events in accordance with current principles is an easy trap to fall into. It is now blindingly obvious–in retrospect–that a fundamental error has been made and how to correct it.

Molnar's third advance is to identify a unique date for which the regal portents were the highest possible and indicated a birth in Judea. On April 17, 6 B.C., the planets aligned in the most auspicious configuration imaginable. Such a powerful horoscope could have driven the wise men to seek out the divine king. This date happens to be near the middle of the time span (roughly 10 to 4 B.C.) in which historians have placed the birth of Christ.

What is so magical about the horoscope? In astrological terms, the Sun was exalted (made most powerful) in Aries, the beneficent Venus was also exalted, the three rulers of the Aries trine were all in Aries, both the Sun and the Moon had their planetary attendants nearby, Jupiter was at its heliacal rise position in Aries, and the Moon occulted Jupiter that day. Wow, this would have blown the turban off any astrologer. And the primacy of Aries would have pointed directly at Judea."


"Let me summarize the implications of the new paradigm in my own words: First, don't but any other book on the Star of Bethlehem, because the old astronomical views are guaranteed to be irrelevant. Second, the new astrological paradigm forces the realization that astrology was an important force in historical times so that the disregard of the topic by most historians is blatant chauvinism. Third, the existence of a stunning astrological horoscope for April 17, 6 B.C., announcing the birth of a great king in Judea will now force scholars of religion to reconcile the event with their own beliefs."

Posted by: rickl at December 19, 2006 10:10 PM

One problem with the "Star as an astronomical event" hypothesis is that (1) the sky turns, so that what is in the East at dawn is in the West at twilight, and (2) a star in the East from Cairo leads you to an entirely different place than a star in the East from Ephesus.

Posted by: ZZMike at January 4, 2007 10:14 AM

"The light of the body is the eye. If, therefore, thine eye be single,thine whole body will be full of Light."

Posted by: FamouslyUnknown at December 22, 2007 1:18 PM

With all our power and our arrogance; with the capability to make species extinct, destroy forests and poison the sea; with the fire that burns in the hearts of stars at our command - still, despite all that, we are sometimes reminded of our smallness.

One moment for me was close to thirty years ago, yet I still remember it as if it was yesterday. I was a student in the days when the music variously known as pomp rock and heavy metal was popular. If I remember correctly, it was something by Led Zeppelin, at the last college party I ever went to. Slightly after the beginning of the piece (they went in for entire-side-of-LP pieces) something was added to the bass line. A lightning storm, several miles away. Quite a big one. Heavy metal on big speakers with Thor on drums - quite impressive, as was the light show.

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at December 24, 2007 5:45 AM

Peace, Hope & Light . . .

- The Light Within . . .

Posted by: gabrielpicasso at December 24, 2007 8:30 AM

Global Warming is a science. Hmmm.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by: Dennis at December 12, 2008 5:48 AM

A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol--Bonhoeffer

Posted by: at December 12, 2008 7:21 AM

Wow, Gerard. Just wow.

Posted by: jay-dubya at December 12, 2008 7:56 AM

How beautifully said...Merry Christmas to you.

Posted by: Holly at December 12, 2008 8:08 AM

How beautifully said...Merry Christmas to you.

Posted by: Holly at December 12, 2008 8:09 AM

Brilliant! I suppose that if I just read this from my pulpit this Sunday, I'll have to give you credit. But of course, I'd rather the people think I could think and write this well.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at December 12, 2008 1:03 PM

No need for credit. When it comes to essays like this one I don't so much write them as "record" them.

They arrive pretty much in completed form.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 12, 2008 1:44 PM

Read every paragraph twice, paused and pondered the truth and beauty of your words. I pause now and still I contemplate some more. I have never and probably could never think of these things on my own. You are special. Thank you Sir, and may the Lord's blessings continue to be bestowed on you.

Posted by: julio figueroa at December 12, 2008 4:06 PM

Read every paragraph twice, paused and pondered the truth and beauty of your words. I pause now and still I contemplate some more. I have never and probably could never think of these things on my own. You are special. Thank you Sir, and may the Lord's blessings continue to be bestowed on you.

Posted by: julio figueroa at December 12, 2008 4:06 PM

At least 1000 thanks to you for this; you knocked another one way out of the park.

Posted by: Susan at December 12, 2008 5:24 PM

"They arrive pretty much in completed form."

Lucky man. All my mental inbox gets is junk mail.
This was a most beautiful piece. This was a work of genuine inspiration. Your essay moved me. Thank you.


Posted by: jwm at December 12, 2008 8:32 PM


When I graduated San Diego, CA's James Madison Sr. High School in 1976, I did so after testing as perhaps, maybe the fastest reader with the highest comprehension recorded there, then to date.

And yes, I used to be one to devour a book or two per day. Back in '98, after a major motorcycle mishap, I recall reading Clancy's 1,400+ pg opus "Executive Orders", in a single eightteen hour sitting, interrupted only by the intake and outflow of foods and fluids.

I'm older now. Wiser, and of weaker eyesight. And, I've tried my hand at writing. Well, okay, blogging. But, still.

Point is, I can't read something like what you've written here now, at the speed of scan. I. Just. Can. Not!

Now that I've leard to write a lick or two, I cannot tread so lightly upon another writer's words. And the more meaty the prose, the slower the meal.

You, Whittle, Velociman. A select few others; repasts for the soul.

Who can then hurry such a feast? Not I.

Frankly, I'm humbled to even have the honor of merely commenting after such a masterwork.

You and one other I forgot to mention, draw me closer to God.

Be sure to include Steve, of Hog on Ice (dot com) in your prayers, and on your blogroll.

Sloop New Dawn*
Galveston, TX

*destroyed by Ike

Posted by: Jim at December 12, 2008 9:10 PM

"Point is, I can't read something like what you've written here now, at the speed of scan. I. Just. Can. Not!"

No shame in slowly savoring another one of Gerard's brilliantly-written pieces. I do it all the time. As was once said in another context by a wise rabbi, "when I pray, I pray quickly, because I am talking to God. But when I read, I read slowly, because God is talking to me".

Regarding the point of the article, today's "wise men" have data aplenty, but little faith, it seems, in anything beyond their ability to collect more data. But they never touch first principles. Prepared for miracles? Not hardly.

I have no problem with science and technology. They have given us a standard of living never before seen in the world. But even I, a longtime skeptic, realize there's something else "out there", and never more than at this time of year. Thanks again, Gerard, for the thought--and wonder--provoking piece.

Posted by: waltj at December 13, 2008 6:06 AM

I've been so busy - I almost skipped this.

Lassoed again.


Posted by: Cathy at December 13, 2008 12:45 PM

Re my comments from two years ago: I found Michael Molnar's web page:

Read the whole thing. I really think he's onto something.

Jim: Sorry to hear about your boat. I recognize your signature from various blogs.

Posted by: rickl at December 14, 2008 2:06 AM

In response to the quotation by Bonhoeffer: Before Bonhoeffer, Christians taught that you can prove that God exists...from creation! Everyone from St. Paul (in Romans) to Augustine to Anselm to Thomas Aquinas. There is quite a long and beautiful tradition in Christianity of how God can be found in the book of creation as well as in the book of revelation! Even today many scientists, especially physicists, have come to the faith through discovering God's existence through studying his creation. Merry Christmas!

Posted by: Kristin at December 15, 2008 8:16 AM

Nice story and all, but it misses the mark, at least for me. I am a scientist - a non-believer. But I hold dear the tenets of my Judeo-Christian/European/American heritage. The teachings of the bible, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution - are all a contimuum that holds the keys to our moral and cultural survival. The miracle to me is that our ancestors created these and other transcendent documents to guide us, while living in a world ruled largely by ignorance and barbarism. You may call it divine - I call it inspiring. The answer is simple, if they could create these guides to the moral side of our culture, then we can at least study and learn the lessons. We should not need myth or mysticism to "trick" us into morality. The path has been layed out for us, we just need to follow it. The scoffing doubters need to understand that our deepest wisdom did come from people who believed in spirits and astrology. We don't need to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" by rejecting the messages just because we doubt the stories that are the vehicles of those messages.

Posted by: Tom Ferrero at December 15, 2008 8:58 AM

Do we know everything? No. Is it possible to know everything? Again, no. Science isn't even a way of knowing. It is far more accurate to say that science and the scientific method is the best way we have to learn just how ignorant we are. And, in addition, to devise better guesses at how things are. But in the long run science is wrong. Wrong because we can't know absolutely how things are.

We take a story and credit it to God, not realizing that that story has so many flaws and plot holes it wouldn't pass muster at the Sci-Fi Channel. Mythologizing a Jewish sect did not need to grow into a religion of its own. Gathered in with other myths that made the nascent faith accessible, but at the same time changed it in ways that weakened and warped the message of the founder.

Should we then not celebrate Christmas? On the contrary. We have long celebrated the shortest day of the year, for it means the days will now lengthen again. Again it will be time for planting, time for birthing, time for courting and the making of vows of marriage. Christmas and like festivals of the Winter Solstice are celebrations of the promise that the world will not be caught in unending gloom and ice, not be trapped in despair unyielding.

It is said that the early Church fathers decided to celebrate Christ's birth at the time of the Roman Saturnalia in order to co-opt it and so turn Roman citizens to the new faith. But even if the Saturnalia had not existed the Winter Solstice best fit what Christ's birth represents.

It represents redemption. Christ, the Christ of the Christian religion has to be born in the depths of Winter. Born at a time when the light is weakest, and Man at his lowest ebb. For He bears the hopes of Mankind, the prayers and aspirations of Humanity. He shall take those dreams on his trek to Calvary, as well as the sins of the world, and at the place known as Golgotha he shall pay the final price and in the doing redeem Man. The final act of this season long comedy being when He returns hope to the world with his resurrection.

Where He was born or when is not important. What really happened to him when he was crucified during the Passover is not important. For He is a creature of myth, and myth speaks to us and ourselves in ways facts cannot.

The Christ of the Church is the Fisher King. Born at the birth of Winter, the water time, to suffer and die at the death of Winter. Thirteen Weeks, three months. Fisher King, Winter King. A brief light, giving way to new hope, new promises. This He does each year in a constant re-enactment of an ancient event that over the centuries has gained more and more importance in our lives.

We don't really need to know if the Star of Bethlehem really existed. It is not a physical star, but a symbolic one. It's light is not a physical guide to Christ's birthplace, but a spiritual guide to the occasion of a miracle that means a harsh and bloody death for an innocent man that we may be free of our guilt. It is the light of Christ's resurrection shining into the past, that Man shall know that His redeemer is here.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at December 15, 2008 3:53 PM

I love the bit where "we worship a database".
It gives me an idea for a story, really... "The Church of the Holy Genome".
Entirely well written. Thank you.

Toronto Canada

Posted by: Warren at December 16, 2008 5:45 AM

This reminded me of a Thomas Hardy poem. The last line always gets me--such a simple statement of modern man's separation from ancient faith and custom:

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Posted by: AK at December 16, 2008 12:02 PM

Un paquita fe. Con muchas gracias Gerardo.

Posted by: adagny at December 21, 2008 12:17 AM

Thank you for a beautiful essay.

God bless and Merry Christmas.

Posted by: southernjames at December 11, 2009 4:30 AM

Wonderful start to the Christmas Festival Gerard and faith-restoring in this increasingly depraved and distorted culture. It reminds of a less articulate but equally heartfelt 'arrival' I experienced a decade or so back when trying to stargaze through the muck that is now our atmosphere (from a UK vantage point, anyway):

Distant Stars and Distant Drums.

Younger eyes perceived the wondrous brilliant light
Of distant stars suspended in the night.
The Universe, the Chandelier of Time;
Heaven adorned in glistening, sparkling rime.

A hologram; a splendid spectral sight;
Myriad beacons, guiding birds in flight:
Each globe a marvel to the virgin eye
Tracing twinkling patterns in the wide night sky.

Unknowing then how unrelenting Time
This precious sense would suffer to decline;
How nothing can restore the dwindling visual power,
As stars become more distant by the hour.

Younger ears once listened to the beat
Of distant drums; of footsteps in the street;
Sounds orchestral; birdsong n the Spring;
The clarity of church bells as they ring.

A symphony of stereophonic sounds;
A sonic range that seemed to have no bounds.
Every note a marvel to the young keen ear,
Harmony or monotone; so sharp and clear.

Unknowing, then, how unrelenting Time
This precious sense would suffer to decline:
How nothing can restore the fading aural power
As drums become more distant by the hour.

May your razor sharp senses never diminish Gerard, and long may you continue to inspire us with your thoughts, illustrations and video-audio snippings.

You have already brightened several of my twilight years, for which, my grateful thanks!

Posted by: Frank P at December 11, 2009 4:31 AM

How wonderful that you have a habit of creating traditions with your essays.

We all seem to hang on the arrival of our favorite parts of the Mysterious Season, be it the lights, the sentimental movies, the songs. For me, it is the stories of mystery and miracle. Not just a Birth, but every dawning word of heaven touching earth that brings wonder to my soul.

It pulls me inward that I may look upward and begin my own journey well.


Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at December 11, 2009 5:14 AM

Well done, Gerard.

Merry Christmas to you. Blessings on your house.


Posted by: Subsunk at December 11, 2009 6:11 AM

This is a wonderfully fine thing. How cold and parched I was a mere fifteen minutes ago.

Posted by: Mizz E at December 11, 2009 7:17 AM

I just want to say that I'm flattered and grateful for all the kind words here.

Thanks to all.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 11, 2009 8:55 AM


Beautiful, just beautiful. And a sheer pleasure to read.

Merry Christmas, and may your days ahead be as brighly lit as the Star that guided the three wise men to Bethlehem. God bless.


Posted by: Salim Mansur at December 11, 2009 12:19 PM

Thanks for a beautiful essay, Gerard. I've said it before, to friends and relatives as I send them links to other essays of yours: I may hear rotten preaching in church lately, but this guy could turn demons in hell towards God again (when not flaying them). God bless, preserve and keep you close to Him this holy season, and always.

Posted by: retriever at December 11, 2009 7:25 PM

Beautiful. Merry Christmas, Gerard.

Posted by: Obi's Sister at December 12, 2009 10:16 AM

The Star was there for those wise men to follow, not just because of them and because of us, but also because of today's unbelievers. It is quite striking that so many among the intellectuals, the intelligentsia of today, blatantly mock what these men did and why. The Apostle Paul clearly said that not many among the learned or among the rich or powerful are called to testify about the Gospel. The Wise Men were just a prologue to his unfortunately fulfilled prophecy.

It is also striking that so many men who could be called "wise", who lived and gathered at a place ten miles away from Bet-Lehem (ten miles!), were genuinely shocked when some astrologers from the Medo-Persian kingdom announced why they were there and how they had found out. It is even more striking when the one person who took the Magi's words at heart was, in fact, the usurper who sought to kill this Newborn before He ever claimed His throne. It is interesting how evil men are more alert when their goose could be cooked than "wise" men who could have been amazed by the Light of the World... and missed that chance, even though the Blessing was right under their very noses.

When the wisdom of the world makes us miss the Greater Blessing, it is a tragedy. In the end, those who think they are "wise" are not remembered in the whole scheme of Eternity. There were many professors at Oxford and Cambridge at the time of the Inklings, but who do we remember from that time? Lewis. Tolkien. I wonder who among America's scholars, especially the ones from our present time, will be remembered for standing apart and above the others, in a manner reminiscent of the Magi.

That is the reason why I collect representations of the Three Wise Men and display them around my house this season. In fact, Epiphany (Jan 6) is celebrated in Puerto Rico still. I still remember that day, and will teach my little daughters about it.


Feliz Navidad, Gerald. Felices Pascuas, if you like the traditional Spanish greeting.

Posted by: newton at December 12, 2009 11:35 PM

Add a passenger to that train of best of the best.

We still have time for miracles, and apparently twice the need. There was a miracle in 2008, when the oceans began to recede and the planet began to heal.

Hayek observed that before the cult of Darwin it was understood by the best minds in science that each advance in science--as we should be reminded through Hubble--provided us with knowledge that expanded the understanding of of our range of ignorance, not the other way around.

What the sterile mind lacks is the sense of hesitation and wonder.

Posted by: james wilson at December 1, 2010 8:40 AM

It's good to come back and read this again. Like great music (Handel's Messiah comes to mind at this time of year), it doesn't get old.

Science is extremely good for investigating "what" and "how". It is useless for answering "why". For that, we need the wonder and faith of the Magi.

Posted by: waltj at December 1, 2010 5:28 PM

The scientists who deny His existance, or cite their muddled obfuscations as proof that we are just happenstance, with no Divine spark, are failing to see the forest for the trees.

For God created Man in his own image. Not similar but lesser, IN HIS OWN IMAGE. To see the Creator, look within ones self. He is within us all.

"As above, so below." "On earth as it is in heaven."
The Book contains "meat for men" as well as "milk for babies". Read between the lines.

That being said, Gerard, thank you once again for letting your inner Light be visible to the rest of us, who are struggling to find enlightenment.

I hope you have a joyous Christmas this year and for many more years to come.
"Let there be Light."

Posted by: Roger Drew Williams at December 1, 2010 9:12 PM

Oh I am so grateful that you share. ~D

Posted by: DeAnn at December 3, 2011 4:46 PM

I am glad to read that again. I expect that you are too, after the year you've had.

Thank you.

Posted by: pfsm at December 3, 2011 7:01 PM

And thusly you earned extra days. Right on.

Posted by: Roger Drew Williams at December 3, 2011 7:35 PM

Thank you, Gerard. Like you, I am a late-comer. Here is a gift for you and readers, Evelyn Waugh's prayer of the Magi, the prayer of the late-comer. Merry Christmas. Every day is a gift. Good and increasing health for the New Year. You remain in my prayers.

"‘Like me,’ writes Waugh, ‘you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before. Even the cattle, they had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you, the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed, and a new defiant light blazed amid the disconcerted stars. How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating where the shepherds are run barefoot. How odd you looked on the road attended by what outlandish liveries laden with such preposterous gifts. You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you, and what did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod with a deadly exchange of compliments which there began that unending war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent. Yet, still, you came and were not turned away. You, too, found room before the manger. Your gifts were not exactly needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass. You were my special patrons and the patrons of all late comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the obscure truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who, through politeness, make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talent. For him, who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delegate. Let them not quite be forgotten at the throne of God when the end comes to their kingdom.’ ”

Posted by: M. P. Ryan at December 4, 2011 4:45 PM

I thought I knew what to say before I read the last comment, and now I see that I don't. [Thanks. Fixed. ]So I will just say this:

Six years has improved the reading of this essay. I think I remember each and every time why I didn't comment after reading it.

I'm in awe.

Merry Christmas, Gerard.

Posted by: Jewel at December 13, 2012 6:12 AM


Posted by: Kat in Indiana at December 9, 2013 4:08 AM

"A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol"- -Bonhoeffer (per another commenter)

God is science, myth, revelation or The Infinite. He wants us to understand and search.
All things can be understood, but it will take humans a long time to match wits with God.

Posted by: grace at December 9, 2013 10:41 AM

For your Advent reading pleasure, link to a number of well-researched articles by a Harvard-trained Christian lawyer on the Star of Bethlehem, dating Jesus' Birth, and other matters including music.

The whole blog is worth perusing.

Posted by: G. Smith at December 10, 2013 8:00 AM

For your Advent reading pleasure, link to a number of well-researched articles by a Harvard-trained Christian lawyer on the Star of Bethlehem, dating Jesus' Birth, and other matters including music.

The whole blog is worth perusing.

Posted by: G. Smith at December 10, 2013 8:00 AM

My Lord in Heaven. Pass the tissue.

Posted by: JoeDaddy at December 11, 2014 3:29 AM

Thank you. I have just discovered your site. Lovely and thoughtful. Thank you for so beautifully expressing what so many of us feel, and bring ing new insights to us. And humor as well! My now favorite read of the day. Thank you for sharing your gift of words with us.

Posted by: Cathy Cranford at December 11, 2014 7:46 AM

You are a pleasure and a joy to read. Merry Christmas.

Posted by: traumakitty at December 11, 2014 12:21 PM

JoeDaddy sed it yesterday. Oh My Lord. Pass the tissue.
I shoulda' known better than to read this again at work. Just keep it up Vanderleun. Yer doin' great. Oh, yeah. Merry Christmas.

Posted by: charles harrell at December 12, 2014 11:55 AM

Beautiful, Gerard. You do have a way with words.

Posted by: creeper at December 16, 2014 11:52 AM

"Those whose lamp of the soul burns low" have done their share of harm. I guess it was 1973 when I read Arthur C. Clark's The Star. Only today was its impact exorcised, Father Vanderleun. MEERY CHRISTMAS!

Posted by: Bruce Hanify at December 17, 2015 2:34 AM

Thank you for republishing this essay once again. It is a mark of a classic to be so true and compelling that the original date of your post is irrelevant. Each time I read it I am truly touched.

Posted by: Dinah at December 17, 2015 7:26 AM

If you see something, say something.
GVDL, well seen, well said.

Posted by: Howard Nelson at December 17, 2015 1:06 PM

Thanks again, Gerard, for this oldie but goodie. One gentle reminder. We don't know how many astronomer/wise men there were; only that there were two or more.. We sometimes infer from the three mentioned gifts, but we don't know. Interesting, isn't it? What "God's secretaries" have chosen and not chosen to tell us. May I refer you to another "oldie?" Merry Christmas!

Posted by: Ralph Kinney Bennett at December 18, 2015 12:03 PM

Thanks for posting this again, Gerard. For a variety of reasons that I won't go into, I've had an uncharacteristically difficult time this year getting into the "Christmas spirit". This helps me remember the "reason for the season".

Posted by: waltj at December 18, 2015 3:41 PM

Why is Christmas December 25?

Whatever date Jesus was born, it almost definitely was not December 25. And the star of Bethlehem has been proven to have been a genuine astronomical event. Arthur C. Clarke could have worked that out for himself if he'd remembered that the modern world is on the Gregorian calendar while the ancients used the Julian.

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