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Christmas Words about Christmas

The Sun and the Son

The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child was.  They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, found the child with Mary his mother.(Matthew 2:9-11)

The miracle of birth, be it a Savior or anyone else, begs for the type of homage the Magi paid that first Christmas day.But how far back do we go in our awe of life? Do we just want to know how it comes to be that a human being is conceived, grown, and born. What about before that? In these days when we map the human genome, we seek information beyond conception to the very genes that are our blueprints.And when we have discovered all there is to know of that, we'll go even further to our very atoms.

If Christ was made Man, then He was also made up of the atoms we are all made of. We contain carbon, oxygen, zinc, iron, and many other elements that weren't present at the Big Bang.In fact, the Big Bang resulted mainly in a lot of hydrogen and heat, there were no heavier elements at first. So I wonder how it is that I, a life-form based on carbon, with blood containing iron-based hemoglobin carrying oxygen, have plastic keyboard keys to type on and all of the other things in my life whose atoms have more electrons than hydrogen. How did we get from a bunch of hydrogen to all of this other stuff that makes up life as we know it?

Gravity, that mysterious bending of space-time that causes objects to fall together, caused a lot of hydrogen to glob together over time. The more that fell together, the denser these globs got.The denser they got, the more the gravity was in effect. At a certain point, the density and pressure is enough to cause the hydrogen atoms to fuse together into helium. We call this ignition, and with it a star is born. If the Magi followed a star, their star was no different.

The structure of a star is a peculiar thing. It's a massive ball of gas that gravity wants to compress, but it's kept inflated constantly because it's a nuclear bomb that blows outward.It's a balance that allows a very long life span. But as a star ages, it's hydrogen fuel runs out. When this happens, the force of the constant nuclear ignition is no longer enough to blow back all of the star that wants to collapse upon itself. Gravity wins and the resulting catastrophic collapse overwhelms the limited space it occupies. If you're standing nearby, there's not much difference, in practical terms, between an implosion and an explosion. You see both in the supernova that results from the death of a star.

In this process, all kinds of fusion reactions happen to the hydrogen and helium. Denser atoms are forged as the star collapses and everything gets smashed together with forces that can only be imagined. When all of this dense debris is cast off in the explosion, heavier elements are strewn throughout the universe. Which is lucky for us.

Because if we're lucky enough to see another bunch of hydrogen come together to form another star somewhere, and if we're lucky enough to have a lot of the heavier elements floating around as background pollution from the death of other stars, and if we're lucky enough to have the size of the new star such that it doesn't burn out too fast, and if we're lucky enough to have an accumulation of the heavier elements fall together and then settle into an orbit that's neither too close nor too far away from this star, all of these elements may find their way into shapes and physiologies that are intelligent enough to wonder where we all came from.

We don't come from around here. We're children of another star. Probably from a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Christ also isn't from around here. But Christ the Man was made of the same star stuff we're all made of. The death of a star, known as a supernova, the only type of star that could have suddenly appeared one night like a beacon, is no more an astronomical closure than the arrival of a Messiah is a final religious chapter after a long wait in limbo. Both represent a continuum.

If the birth of a Messiah represents a progression of the hopes of those who search for the meaning of life, it's only fitting that a star is what guided wise men to their goal.

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