Once upon a time, around three and a half thousand years ago, the word of the LORD came to an old Babylonian man living as an alien in the land of Canaan. The aged sojourner’s name was Abraham and he was very wealthy in livestock, silver, and gold, but despite all his prosperity, Abraham and his wife Sarah experienced a painful emptiness in their lives, a poverty—they remained childless.
During one particularly long, dark night, as Abraham struggled to believe that the LORD really would keep his promise to bless him and make him into a great nation, when it began to seem foolish to hope for an heir, the Almighty God, Creator of heavens and earth, took him outside his tent and told him to lift up his eyes and behold the night sky. Then the Sovereign LORD declared something wonderful to Abraham, that his offspring would be as countless as the stars of the heavens!
In other words, God was effectively saying, “Here is light for you, Abraham! Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth and you will greatly increase your numbers. But now, look up! Take your eyes off the sandy ground, lift your head and take in the astronomical splendour of the cosmos! I promise you this, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky”. And Abraham believed God. That night it must have seemed to the old Babylonian father-to-be that the stars had never shone brighter.
But hold on a moment! What’s this got to do with Advent you might be wondering? Well, quite a bit actually. Around 1,500 years after our starry-eyed patriarch stood outside his tent in Canaan and gazed up at the glory of the heavens, some wise astrologers (a.k.a. Magi) in a faraway eastern land (maybe Persia) were studying the constellations of the night sky and suddenly beheld a star, but not just any star, a wondrous star—a star of royal beauty. Once again, on a dark night, God gave those with eyes to see, those willing to look up, heavenly illumination. A star sign. A sign that God had kept his promise to Abraham the star counter that he would have a son coming from his own body. In Matthew chapter 2 we read that these mysterious Magi from the east are the first travellers who come to visit the Christ child—the son of Abraham—which is, after all, what Advent means: “coming” or “arrival”.
And the arrival of the (three?) wise Magi in the land of Judah only happens because of an unlikely character which plays a vital role in Matthew’s nativity story. Just like Joseph, Mary and the Christ child, this character never utters a single word and remains completely silent throughout the unfolding drama. Unlike the rest of the cast, this lofty character isn’t even human, yet it plays a stellar role as God’s agent. Yes, you’ve guessed it—the star! Twinkling in the background of every nativity scene it never fails to be included, but it tends to be regarded as little more than a decorative Christmas ornament. However, the true magnitude of its role has been underestimated—this star is a glowing (nonhuman) personality whose character exemplifies what a real disciple of Jesus should be like.
Perhaps it is a little shocking that the God of Israel would use an inanimate object like a star as an active participant in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth? Admittedly, it does sound rather pagan and New Age. But it shouldn’t really come as a surprise at all. Discerning readers will notice that the big story of the Bible is littered with nonhuman characters who play lowly yet significant roles in God’s grand plan of redemption. It’s just that they are generally overlooked.
Take the starry host for example. Science has given us the accepted naturalistic explanation—in our universe “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas”. However, in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, C.S. Lewis pushes back on this somewhat limited definition. In a scene where Lucy and Edmund, with their cousin, Eustace, encounter an old man named Ramandu (who is actually a retired star), he tells them that a star is more than simply a distant fiery sun, saying, “Even in your world… that is not what a star is but only what it is made of”.
And to a certain extent the biblical writers would agree. They seem to invite us readers to engage with nonhuman creation on the level of our imaginations. Using poetic language, the Bible portrays the stars as the celestial flash mob of the cosmos that have been among the Creator’s most choral witnesses since ancient times. Human beings are supposed to look up at the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—and listen to their testimony. Since the dawn of creation, the heavens have been declaring the glory of God and the skies have proclaimed the work of his hands. Day after day they have poured forth speech; night after night they continue to reveal knowledge. They have no human speech, they use no comprehensible words, and no audible sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
So, where does this leave us? I think we need to walk outside the tent and join Abraham in the cold night air. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens. Be reminded that from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. Rejoice that God has kept his word and that you and I may be counted among the spiritual offspring of Abraham and Sarah.
Then climb to the top of an ancient observatory and join three Persian star gazers. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens and focus on a single star. And be reminded that the God who created the countless, also brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Rejoice! This is true for each one of us who has believed God has given Jesus to save his people from their sins. Just as God used one star of royal beauty to guide the wise Magi to worship the King, he has called each believer by name. You are known and valued by the Creator of the heavens.
So, come rising star! Imitate the heavens and declare the glory of God, and together with all the shining stars praise the LORD. Be encouraged that you too have been called by name and your mission is to shine like a star in the universe as you lead many to righteousness! Let your starlight shine brightly in your small corner of the world so that those around you might be pointed to Jesus the true Light of Christmas—the Morning Star. And rejoice because he has overcome the darkness!
Jean comes from South Africa originally and now lives in Brisbane with her husband and two young adult children. She has completed a Master of Divinity and a Graduate Certificate in Theology from Brisbane School of Theology. She has a keen interest in biblical narrative and recently completed a project on donkeys in Old Testament stories. She enjoys watching British period dramas, having coffee with friends, trying to keep her pot plants alive, and entertaining her little blue parrot.