To Follow the Star – A Christmas Reflection

My kids and I were heading home from school. I was driving as they sat in the back seat, telling me about their day.

Thanksgiving still approached, but the radio station we often listen to had already begun to play Christmas songs. In fact, it played only Christmas songs.

I was humming along with one tune at a stoplight when my nine-year-old son said, “There are probably lots of people who sing these songs but don’t really listen to the words.”

His observation echoed in my ears and the rest of the day, I could not forget what he said.

I remember reading that once we have heard a song over 30 times, we no longer listen to the words anymore. It becomes as rote as the times tables unless we make a conscious effort to focus on the words.

You’ve probably found this to be true, perhaps with familiar Christmas carols, or traditional hymns, or even favorite songs you have on your playlist or hear on the radio.

For a while, the lyrics are powerful, perhaps enough to move you to tears.

But eventually, as you sing along, or hum if you have a hard time remembering the words, it’s just another song.

It is especially easy to let this happen to Christmas carols.

After all, we hear them year after year after year after year.

The same words.

The same tunes.

The once-powerful message is lost beneath the familiarity and we wonder why Christmas doesn’t have the magic and awe that it once had.

But what if we really listened?

What if we could hear those words anew?

I think of the words to one of my favorite Christmas songs, “The First Noel.”

About the Song “The First Noel”

The First Noel is thought to have been composed in sixteenth-century England.

The song utilizes the French spelling of Noel rather than the Anglo-Saxon spelling, “Nowell.”

Some early versions of The First Noel read as The First Nowell.

The carol was originally published in “Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern” in 1833.

Lyrics of The First Noel

The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the East beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

And by the light of that same star
Three Wise men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

This star drew nigh to the northwest
O’er Bethlehem it took its rest
And there it did both Pause and stay
Right o’er the place where Jesus lay.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Then entered in those Wise men three
Full reverently upon their knee
And offered there in His presence
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel! 

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and earth of nought
And with his blood mankind has bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Photo by Marek Piwnicki on

Following a Star?

It seems that only the strangest of people would follow a star.

The most desperate.

People with no life back home, or who are running from something … people who face such a hard time in their lives that only this star they were seeking might have been enough to bring them hope.

We know little about these men from the east who followed a star to find Jesus.

We could probably count on one hand everything we know about them.

  • They were from the east.
  • They followed a star.
  • They brought gifts to a newborn stranger.
  • They worshiped this babe as if he was their king.
  • Oh, and they were wise.

Such a strange mixture of facts, it seems.

Wise men … tromping over a vast desert with exotic gifts?

Wise men … traveling in search of an unnamed, unknown king?

Wise men … following a star as if it was a lighthouse or a beacon or a treasure map?

Almost as soon as they entered the story, they were gone. Back across those desert sands, having laid their gifts at the feet of the child.

Swallowed up by history. We do not even know their names.

But we know something about them …

Because we know ourselves.

We know the things we run from, and the things we run towards. We know our desperation, sometimes, to find the smallest inkling of hope in the strangest of things.

We know what it is like to imagine – to dare to dream – that perhaps something like a star or a newborn king might be enough to save us.

But do we follow?

Do we trust a star to guide us? Do we lay our gifts or ourselves or our silly, broken hearts if that is all we have, at His feet?

Do we worship this King who so often to us still seems like a stranger?

These wise men followed the star, the song says, because they knew what they were seeking.

A King.

And as humble and unassuming as the Christ child was, they knew it was the one they had been searching for.

The one all humanity had been waiting for, whether they knew it or not.

Tonight, a star shines.

Bidding us to look up, to believe, to seek for that King, to follow Him wherever He may bid.

A Christmastide Prayer

Lord, help me to follow You, even if at times it makes about as much sense as following a star.

You were called the Bright and Morning Star.

Be my star on the nights that are dark and lonely and cold.

You were also called Dayspring.

Be my sun every day of my life’s journey, for I need Your light and warmth to guide me and bring me to life.