Overlooked Christmas Star

by Juan L. Mercado

The Christmas star lantern or parol at our home is always a latecomer by local standards. Since September, the first of the “ber” months, parols have decked the malls and street corners. And mini-stars have been swaying from jeepney rearview mirrors.

We dug into our storeroom to dust off, then will tuck the parols up mid-November. That’s about a couple of weeks before the onset of Advent. One is flame red and the other silver. The lantern in our sons Joe and Larry’s home next door is of capiz shell. All will start blinking a couple of weeks before the onset of Advent.

Our three-year-old grandson Lukas will be flying in from Michigan with his parents end of November. So are our daughters and family from California and New York. So the wife and I also dusted the Christmas tree, the wreaths—and, yes of course, the crib.

The creche dates back to St. Francis of Assisi. In 1293, he directed the building of a crib in the woods of Greccio. And on Christmas Eve, when the crib was ready, hay was brought, and an ox and a donkey were led to the spot. And Francis, as deacon, sang the gospel and preached. The idea quickly spread all over the Christian world, and soon there were Christmas cribs in churches and homes. The crib came to the Philippines on galleons from Mexico.

Our crib and figurines are a gift from our housemaid. Tering opted to remain in Rome when the United Nations reassigned us to Bangkok. Last we heard from her was through a cheerful e-mail: “Our Filipino choir sang next to the Pope at the canonization of San Lorenzo Ruiz of Tondo.”

Even today, the Christmas star continues to puzzle scientists. “Was it a supernova or a comet?” ask Drs. Peter Andrews of University of Cambridge and Robert Massey of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. A “stationary point of Jupiter,” perhaps?

In 5 BC, the year many scholars believe Jesus was born, a combination of a bright nova and a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, in the constellation of Pisces, were seen. “Ancient Chinese astronomers recorded this as an unusually bright star that appeared in the eastern sky for 70 days. It was a rare sight.”

“None of possible astronomical explanation has overwhelming evidence that it should be preferred to others,” Andrews and Massey conclude.

The same puzzle bugged King Herod and his court in Jerusalem, Matthew tells us in his gospel account. Travel-stained but stately Magi (three, four, who knows?) lobbed a half-question-half declaration: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Herod the king and all Jerusalem were snarled up. None had seen the star. But the priests could cite verse and line where such a Child would be born. In next door Bethlehem. “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” Yet, they and Herod did not make a beeline for Bethlehem.

After determining, when the star appeared, Herod bade them off to Bethlehem, whispering: “Bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

“And behold, the star which they (magi) had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was…. with Mary His mother…. (and they) worshipped and presented unto Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

“And being warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way” (Matthew 2: 1-12).

In his 1930 poem, “Journey of the Magi,” TS Eliot wrote:

“Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?/…. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation/With an alien people clutching their gods.”

While dusting our old parols, we stumbled across a clipping of “Secret of the Star.” Written by the late historian and poet Horacio de la Costa. It read:

“I do not think the three Wise Men/Were Persian Kings at all/I think it much more likely they/Set sail from out Manila Bay/In answer to the call./And though the great historians/ May stare at me, and frown/I still maintain the three Wise Men/Were Kings from my home town.

“And if you ask why I affirm/ That Melchor was King of Tondo, When Gaspar ruled Sampaloc/And Balthazar Binondo—We will not argue. We will walk/The streets on Christmas Eve,/And I will show you the poor man’s rafters,/ Where hangs the Star the Kings/ sought after, High above on Christian prayer and laughter—You will see it, and believe!

“For when they crossed the sea again/From Bethlehem afar/They lost their camels in the sea, And they forgot the Christmas tree,/ But they brought back to you and me/The secret of the Star.”


E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com

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