A brief Christmas message, included in Christmas cards distributed around the Riverside Parishes (near Darlington).

Would it surprise you to learn that I used to be an astronomer?

It certainly surprised one woman in the church I belonged to at the time.

‘Astronomy? You can’t study that as a Christian!’

‘Of course you can,’ I replied. ‘God made the universe!’

‘But what about horoscopes and star signs!’

‘That’s astrology! It’s completely different!’

Back in the time of Jesus, however, astrology and astronomy were basically the same thing. The people who studied the stars did so in order to look for signs and to predict the future. That was true of the ‘magi’, the ‘wise men’, who came looking for the baby Jesus. They had seen something in the sky that told them that there was a new-born king of the Jews.

I think we can learn two things from the magi.

First, it’s good to be a seeker. These days, if we can’t find the answer with a quick search online, we often give up and do something else. But these magi travelled for months in order to find what they were looking for. It will take more than a couple of clicks on our phones in order to figure out what life is really all about. Are we up for the challenge?

Second, don’t expect much help from the stars! The star didn’t take the magi all the way to Jesus. The star led the magi to Jerusalem, and then it was the Bible that told them to go to Bethlehem. If you want to figure out what life is all about, it might be worth looking in the Bible, and you might be surprised with what you find! You could try with the accounts of Jesus’ life in Matthew or Luke, which both begin with different aspects of the Christmas story.

On behalf of the churches here, a very happy Christmas to you all!