You have to wonder
what went through the minds of the three wise men when they decided
to follow the star. Whose idea was it? Which one of the three first
suggested that they follow it, or did they all meet up on the way? How
did they explain it to their loved ones? Theres this star,
you see, and if I follow it I will find the Messiah. There must
have been a bit of nudging and laughing down the local tavern the night
they left. But then again, maybe not. They were the three wise
men after all. Maybe they had a point. Maybe like all the generations
since they were searching for something that needed to be found.
This all came into my mind on Christmas Eve 2000 as I stood with my
father, his wife, my sister and her partner (one of the central tenets
of modern family life is that you can no longer sum up your nearest
and dearest in just the one word) trying to spot the International Space
Station. Christmas Eve was supposed to be the one night that we would
actually be able to see the sparkling behemoth wing its way across the
skies. The conversation went something like this:
Thats it. Look. Over there.
No, thats Venus.
It cant be. Its moving.
No its not. You are.
Oh. Well, what about that one then? Thats definitely moving.
Thats because its an aeroplane.
The problem was, of course, that none of us knew exactly what we were
meant to be looking for. We knew it would be the size of a large star
and that it would take around five minutes to make its way across the
skies. But we had real problems trying to distinguish it from the other
objects in the night sky - aeroplanes, stars, planets. Any one of them
could have been the space station. And why did we want to see it anyway?
What did it mean to us?
In addition to being wise, those three men had one other advantage over
us. They knew what they were following and they had a good idea of what
they would find at the other end. And maybe thats why the star
that they followed signalled the beginning not only of a new millennia
but a whole new calendar (even if they didnt know it at the time).
That star meant something to them in the same way that the space station
means nothing to us.
What would happen if we followed the new star? Would we all find our
own Baby Jesus? Would we even recognise him? Laying aside the fact that
if we found a woman lying in a stable with a baby in a manger being
ogled by a donkey, some sheep with their attendant shepherds and three
men clutching useless gifts we would call social services, would we
be able to recognise what it was that we had found?
What is salvation today? Jesus was born into a time of war and strife
and he preached peace. (Lets not even begin to discuss what his
followers have preached ever since). Is that still the message that
we are searching for today? Violence, whether on a global or a personal
level is still one of the biggest problems in the world today. And so
what do we do? Spend millions to send a piece of metal out of the world?
And lets not kid ourselves that our world leaders wouldnt
love to play a gigantic game of Star Wars. To me, the space station
is about promoting more competition and aggression between nations and
even, ultimately, with what might be further out there, in the wide
Im all for trying to find new frontiers,to extend our understanding
of what is around and above us. But I also think that the whole point
of finding out more is not just to find it but to actually use it for
the betterment of humankind. Science and new technology is booming.
We can clone sheep, communicate with people on the other side of the
world within seconds and soon we may even visit Mars. But we still cant
communicate with each other and we still havent found a way to
prevent the human misery of countless millions.
I thought that it was a remarkable coincidence that our only chance
to see the space station in 2000 was on Christmas Eve. Is the space
machine our new Christmas star? And if so, will it bring
us a new way of life? Its known as the International Space Station
but has it brought a new era of internationalism? Isnt it ironic
that at the same time as searching for the new star, the town over which
the original one hung 2000 years ago was being bombed and closed off
to all travellers? Wise or not, if those three men had tried to enter
Bethlehem today and had had the wrong coloured licence plates then they
would have been refused access.
Christmas is always my reflective time and this year was no exception.
Given that I was about to undertake a large career change I was possibly
even more reflective than usual. And since the film of the same name,
we have all thought that the year 2001 will be about technology and
space travel, it seemed particularly apt that the star we were all searching
for this Christmas was a false star. Because the thing is that we dont
know what we want any more. We are no longer searching for salvation
although we would love to find some meaning.
Needless to say, we never did see the space station.
© Hazel Marshall 2001