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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What star is this, with beams so bright,
more lovely than the noonday light?
‘Tis sent to announce a newborn king,
glad tidings of our God to bring.

‘Tis now fulfilled what God decreed,
“From Jacob shall a star proceed”;
and lo! the eastern sages stand
to read in heaven the Lord’s command.

While outward signs the star displays,
an inward light the Lord conveys
and urges them, with tender might,
to seek the giver of the light.

O Jesus, while the star of grace
impels us on to seek your face,
let not our slothful hearts refuse
the guidance of your light to use.

Charles Coffin’s “What Star Is This, with Beams So Bright”
trans. John Chandler
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

Before I was assigned this hymn text for a devotion, I had never seen it. Perhaps I have heard it somewhere along the way, but I’ve never sung it. Because of that, I spent some time listening to different versions online, and through that exploration, discovered that the third verse given here is often omitted.

I am so glad it is here and in the new hymnal.

In twenty-five words this verse communicates much about how God works in this season and in our lives. There’s the recognition of the star as sacramental, an “outward sign . . . [which] displays an inward light.” If I can manage to pause long enough, I will see that my life is rich with sacramental encounters, material moments revealing God’s grace. There’s the “urging” of the Lord. The magi were enticed to make the journey to Jesus by the star; they were not automatons, made to go. Similarly the gift of free will means that I must watch for divine invitation and then decide to accept—or not. There’s the oxymoron of God’s “tender might.” God so often manifests breathtaking power in moments of gentleness and quiet (think Elijah and the “still, small voice”). And there’s the reminder to “seek the giver of the light.” It’s not the miracle we should be watching for—the big light in the sky or the parting of the sea —but the One whose gift of love quickens our hearts and sends us to share that love.

God of tender might, you who uses things we understand to help us enter into that which is incomprehensible, guide us. When your holy light shines into the messy stable places of our lives, may we see and know Jesus. We ask this in his name. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
The Center for Life and Learning

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