Sometimes we don’t realize what we’re looking at, do we?
This winter solstice is a good example of that, because tonight we’ll be able to see a particularly bright “star” in the night sky.
That is, you might assume it’s a star, but you’ll actually be seeing something quite different.
This rare “Christmas star” will actually be a planetary conjunction. The planets Jupiter and Saturn will be so closely aligned tonight that they will appear to be one ultra-bright object.
At other times, a bright “star” you see might actually be a binary star system; that is, two stars orbiting each other. Or it could be the planet Venus. You’d need to study it through a telescope, adjust your focus and consult an astronomical guide to know for sure.
The truth is, sometimes we don’t really understand what we’re seeing.
That was certainly true for many of the people who saw the baby Jesus and the star which heralded His birth.
Many of us have GPS systems in our cars or on our phones. They allow us to pinpoint our locations on a map, letting us know exactly where we are.
But in the days before modern technology, how did people navigate? If they needed to cross an ocean, what told them where they were?
The North Star did.
More formally known as Polaris, the North Star is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation. Because it’s almost in a direct line above the Earth’s north celestial pole, the North Star appears to stand motionless in the sky, with the other stars seeming to rotate around it.
This made it a perfect fixed point by which to draw measurements for celestial navigation. In fact, the Old English word for the North Star meant “ship-star,” reflecting its use in helping to chart a course when sailing.
We still need a north star today.
Not to get from point A to point B in our vehicles, but to navigate the seas of our lives. When our whole world has turned topsy-turvy, we need a fixed point to focus on to keep us on a stable course.