In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” – Matthew 2:1–2 (NRSV, adapted)
It’s a good time of year for stargazing, assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere. (If you’re in the southern hemisphere: Hi! We love you from up here!) Our northern attention has always been drawn to the night sky in winter. Some reasons for this have been known for a long time: the night’s longer this time of year. Others we’ve always felt but only understood relatively recently: cold air holds less moisture, so the sky is less hazy and stars are more visible. Still others are new to us: during the summer, we’re staring into the heart of the Milky Way where there are so many stars they obscure each other, while in winter we’re staring out past the edges of the galaxy where the relatively smaller number of visible stars obscure each other less. We’ve gained more and more and more knowledge of the stars and our place among them over the millennia.
Compared to modern astronomers, the magi knew next to nothing about the nature and movements of the stars. And yet, they knew what the things they saw meant, and what to do about it. They may not have had many facts, but they had a lot of wisdom.
These nights, your vision is as clear as it’s likely to be all year long. You have more facts at your fingertips than the ancients ever could have imagined. But as you watch the sky tonight, the question isn’t how many facts you have about the stars; it’s whether you have enough wisdom to read them.
Reveal yourself to me in the stars, O God. Write your purposes across the sky. Let me see you shining there, and make me wise enough to know what to do when I see you.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Chaplain of the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell University. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.