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A gift of hope

The world desperately needs a Star this Christmas.

Ancient enmities have resurfaced, pitting Islamist radicals against largely Christian nations. The Holy Land is stained with blood, and awash in bitterness. Starvation ravages Darfur and North Korea, AIDS lays waste to much of Africa, and nations with dark intent seek the nuclear secrets of Creation for their own ends.

Men of good will suffer, and peace on earth is elusive.

And then comes this day -- a day chosen by history and tradition in much of the world, including this continent, to mark the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, honored by Muslims as a prophet and revered by Christians as God himself. And with that birthday comes the anniversary of the Star of Bethlehem -- now strife-torn Bethlehem, seemingly closer to Armageddon than to the peaceful fields once watched over by shepherds.

We would do well, this Christmas, to heed the messages of that birth and of the Star that marked it. For both are messages of triumph, not doom, and they shine through all the types and levels of faith, for Christians and non-Christians, for those who truly believe and for those who see only a story, an allegory of the human spirit. The birth of Christ carried with it the redemptive promise of hope, now seen through a lens of time that carries its own message -- the knowledge that suffering and struggle forged a necessary passage to the fulfillment of that promise. The message of the guiding Star is a reminder that peace and hope must be pursued, not merely expected. That is a message for nations and individuals alike.

And it's why we need the Star, this Christmas. Christians this day rightly will concentrate on celebrating the birth of Christ -- although, for many, that message sadly will be lost in the culmination of a season of material glitter, and truths may be buried amid the discarded wrappings of big-ticket gifts.

But those who seek more than the pleasures of the material world will see more, will see the joy promised to men and women of good will -- the joy of knowing that struggles and efforts can bring us all closer to the promise of peace on earth, however difficult that journey may be. It's a promise symbolized by the Star -- or perhaps the promising angel -- atop the Christmas tree, far above the litter of paper and ribbons on the floor. It's the promise, and the task, that should be highest in the heart, as well.

In Christ's day, the Star did more than guide the Magi to the stable for the presentation of gifts of gold and of the anointing fragrances with their symbolic and meaningful connotations of death and funerals. It also signaled Herod to launch the slaughter of the innocents, an atrocity on the scale of anything evil has unleashed in the war zones of today. Promise rarely comes without intervening pain.

The Star itself, historically, may have been a supernova, or an alignment of planets best seen by Middle Eastern astronomers/astrologers, or a miracle. No matter. What does matter is that it still shines today, in meaning or in hearts, as the world continues its strife-torn journey. It still burns with the message that pain is indeed only intervening, and that the journey leads toward the promise -- if we choose to see the Star, and have the courage to follow.

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