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A Christmas Star

Edward Burne-Jones, The Star of Bethlehem, 1890 (Courtesy of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery)

With the emergence of a worrisome new COVID-19 variant, nightmarish climate forecasts, and the full embrace of unscientific and undemocratic thinking by a substantive percentage of the American voting public, this Christmas season feels more emotionally challenging than last year. “Normal” life resembles a distant memory more than an object just in sight.

For that reason, Christmas and our shared and personal expressions of it might carry even greater importance and power. The culture exploring and celebrating the holiday — literature, music, film, and food — provide comfort, nostalgia, and possibly hope. Reading A Christmas Carol, listening to “What Child is This?,” watching It’s a Wonderful Life, or indulging in a sliver of panettone invites us into a narrative of connection and continuity largely absent in our current lives.

Christmas marks the birth of the Christ child and all he portends. In the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-12), three wise men, or the Magi, read of Christ’s birth in a star. Later, that same star guides them to the newborn Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem.

This year, the story of the Magi searching the stars for a sign and a direction seems timely and revelatory. Instead of looking at the heavens, maybe we should look toward our own traditions — whatever they might be. Even if we can’t safely or justifiably visit friends or family on this now second pandemic Christmas, we can cook a special dish, watch a favorite film, or read a beloved story. Maybe within them, we might find a star heralding the joyful hope of the season.

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