Above: How the sky would have to look to get my attention.

10 December, 2000

Dear Friend,

How do you follow a star?
. . . The Three Wise Men did it but the Bible doesn't tell us how.
. . . If I jumped in a taxi at night, pointed to the heavens and said, "Follow that star!" -- the driver would think I was nuts, in part because stars don't move, at least not relative to one another.
. . . Before people distinguished between stars and planets, what we now call stars were then called the fixed stars. That's what set them apart from the planets, which were movable stars.
. . . We can assume the Wise Men weren't following one of the fixed stars. We also can assume they weren't following a planet. The Wise Men would have been familiar with both. This was something different.
. . . In one Christmas song, the star is described as a comet, "with a tail as big as a kite." But that doesn't help explain how the Wise Men followed it for weeks or how the star happened to "stop" over Bethlehem. How could the Wise Men tell the star had stopped over that town and not Hebron or Jericho or Jerusalem?
. . . If you know how to follow a star, I'd appreciate hearing the details.

The only celestial body I've ever tried to follow was a flock of geese. I was driving with a friend in Texas when we spotted a flock high overhead. We took off after it, hoping to spot where the geese would land.
. . . Two things hampered us. One, we were in a city. Two, we were in a Volkswagen Beetle.
. . . We drove north as fast as the VW's four cylinders would move us. Traffic lights kept stopping us. By the time we got out of town, the geese were far ahead, close to the horizon, mere specks that soon disappeared. We gave up. It had been a wild goose chase.
. . . With that experience behind me, my first guess would be that the Star of Bethlehem was only a few hundred feet in the air and moved only a few miles an hour. That would explain how the Wise Men followed it but such an object doesn't sound like a star, planet, or comet; sounds more like a hot-air balloon with not much wind. Also, you wouldn't have to be wise to follow it.

Instead of asking how to follow a star, the question could be asked backwards; that is, if a star wanted to be followed, how would it behave?
. . . In order to get me to follow it, the star would have to be an obvious curiosity. It would have to stop beside my window, get my attention, then move away slowly and give me time to follow it. Even then, the most the star could hope for would be for me to follow it for an hour or two. I can't imagine what it would have to do in order for me to follow it for weeks and buy presents along the way.
. . . The Star of Bethlehem wasn't like that. It was subtle. Only the wise saw it and understood. Perhaps they were waiting to see it. When the sign appeared, they were ready.
. . . Me, I'm more like one of the shepherds, the ones who were tending their flocks by night, the same night Jesus was born in a stable. To get my attention, the heavens need to open in glory. I need an angel chorus to scare me out of my wits and then tell me not to be afraid. I need someone to tell me exactly what's going on.
. . . Thankfully, God provides for the subtle and the dense.

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