The Ox and the Star- Look, See, Pray

It’s not every day you meet a gaur ox… six feet high, heavy enough to make me feel slender, those big, dark, placid eyes… and the ability to shove his tongue up his own nostrils. After a few minutes of staring at each other, the ox settled down and, once sitting comfortably, it seemed he was ready to tell me a story…
I often wonder what stories animals would tell if they could (Can’t help having an active imagination!) so my mind began to wander. I love stories. Once upon a time Gaur- he has to have a name, so why not?- listened to his great-great-great-Grandfather Muuuh telling an evening story as the herd chewed its cud and the ox-calves burped warm milky wind…

“Once upon a time, in a land far far away, our forebears lived in a hot hilly town where we worked so, so hard. Some days we ploughed the fields, or pulled up trees. Our owner fastened a heavy yoke on our shoulders and tied ropes to our harness so we could do what those weak men couldn’t do for themselves. We were proud of being strong, and brave, and stubborn- even more stubborn than those donkeys! And our deep voices drowned out those annoying brays- lightweights, those donkeys, can’t think they’d ever be much use…
Anyway, said Muuuh, they had an adventure! There’s one night that every ox remembers with pride. It went like this.
“It was a difficult plod back to the stable that evening. The roads were choked with people, and we had to barge our way through to get home. We were late for our hay- and on the journey we saw a bright Star shining, high in the darkening sky, so pretty.
Home in our pen at last, guzzling our hay, we were just getting ready to doze off and a frightful clatter made us jump! The door had been dragged open and a donkey clattered her hooves on the stones. In came a man and a very fat lady, looking weary and rather bedraggled. She cried out sharply. and grabbed at her stomach, and started breathing hard. The man put her down on a fairly clean bit of straw, and she shrieked! That’s when I realised. She wasn’t fat, she was about to have a calf!
It seemed to take a long time, with noises and tears and yells- then a different noise- a wail, a sobbing cry… Poor calf, I thought, can’t even moo. And it isn’t even trying to stand up, poor thing. That’s when, of all things, the woman wrapped some cloth round the young one, and PUT IN IN MY DINNER TROUGH, right on my soft sweet hay!
Cheek. I was going to have that for breakfast. The night seemed long and starlight shone brightly through the crack in the door. I stamped my hooves, then pricked up my ears… someone was coming. Several, in fact. The man met them at the door, and tried to send them away. But they talked quickly, urgently, and a caught a few words… Something about “angels” and visions and Light… then someone lost hold of some silly little lamb and for a few moments it was chaos. Then the man spoke again, and pointed at the woman, and the calf in the trough, and said “Sent by God… Love has been sent from Heaven to Earth…”
The new arrivals, who smelled of sheep, just smiled and fell on their knees… and the new mother smiled and nodded, and they all looked so happy. Later on the sun came up, and we went out to work, gently ruminating on what had happened.”
We oxen, said Muuuh, have always repeated that Story. Because if what those shepherds said is true, then it was the best night any oxen have seen. The mighty One who made us strong has changed the world with a little, crying, weak thing who the man called Jesus. Who knows what will happen next? It’s beyond any Ox to know… but look up at the sky tonight… Maybe we’ll see a Star…”

(c) Copyright Richard Starling 2020

Love of a Different Kind

I’m ready to enjoy Christmas. It will have a particular resonance this year.  For over thirty years I have celebrated a “professional” Christmas:  yes, I believe in the message and meaning of Christmas, but when my role was to enable others to understand and live Christmas it could become repetitive or stale. I’ve always tried my best, because I love Christmas and enjoy it myself!

This year is different. A couple of months ago I was brought up short when the doctor suggested some extra tests. In no time at all (well done the NHS) I was face to face with a surgeon who explained I had cancer in the large intestine… and then set out the risks involved in treatment. Stark truth!  The alternative would be no treatment, and sooner or later I would die.

Now then, I am not just a “professional” Christian, a minister who teaches others about faith. I really do believe and trust in the good news that Jesus proclaimed. It isn’t “just” a religion, it is a living experience that has demanded (and still does) an active obedience which has shaped the whole of my adult life.

But to be confronted with “This could kill you” makes things very real, very quickly.

Surgery went well, although the recovery took longer than expected, and now I am home in time for Christmas. The long, lonely & noisy hours on the ward shared with seven very sick men became a time to think about life, faith, and mortality. Helplessly subject to the regime of the hospital, it would be easy to despair. That way is dangerous. I am truly thankful that I kept hoping and trusting.  I wish I could say it was a deeply spiritual experience. Honestly, it was a dark road… but illuminated by shafts of light and gradually moving toward a clear sky and a hope-filled future.

The experience reminded me of a song I wrote 15 years ago. “Love of a Different Kind” tries to relate the first Christmas, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, to the rest of His life- and even to His death and resurrection. When we sing carols about the angels, the Star, the Baby, and those humbly obedient human beings (Joseph, Mary, the shepherds…) we are declaring that what the human race needed and needs is a love of a different kind. No ordinary affection, no pretty story, no fictional hero- but TRUE love. God proving that He is always involved in the life of this tiny planet set in a vast sea of stars. As Graham Kendrick memorably wrote, “the hands that flung stars into space” are the hands that were crucified.

Surely, after the year we’ve all had, the song of love to Man and peace on Earth is one we should all listen to with open hearts.  May we all have a memorably lovely Christmas.


When shepherds came, and angels sang “Glory to God!”
Who would have thought this was the night when history changed?
What can this mean? Love of a different kind!

The baby grew, as babies do, love in his heart.
No-one has seen a love like this- so is it a dream?
What does it mean? Love of a different kind!

The Light that shone in heav’n above is shining now.
The world is full of darkness yet hope lingers on.
What can it mean? Love of a different kind!

Two arms out-stretch’d, a crown of thorns, beginning or end?
The song is sung of love to man, and peace on Earth.
It’s not a dream! Love of a different kind.

A Saviour’s song, that fights the pride, which keeps us away:
But what a price to find the lost did Jesus pay!
Glory to God! Love of a different kind.

© 2004, Richard I. Starling.

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Light Breaks Through

Not a promising sort of day. Cloudy, showery, and cool. Then the light broke through. Dark clouds ripped apart, silver swathe across the sea horizon, and our boat trip suddenly became much more enticing!

That’s the thing about Light. It has immense power to overcome darkness. It is the light and energy of the Sun that powers the weather on the planet, not the clouds that shroud and dull our days. Sooner or later, Light breaks through.

It is less than two weeks to Christmas. The familiar Bible stories and Christmas carols will remind us of angels, of a mysterious Star, of a lamp breaking the darkness as a baby takes breath- and the cosmos celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ.

I was awake early, and sitting with a cuppa waiting for daybreak. Picking up a Bible, and turning to the Letter to the Philippians, I found myself marvelling at the words that Paul used to describe unity and Christlike-living, setting it against the background of the attitude of Jesus. Son of God, yet born in total humility, and living a selfless life of obedient faith. The Light broke through for me- THIS is the message of Christmas!

Philippians 2:1-14 (ANIV)
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence— continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing…