Through many years lived in the Kimberley I came to prepare for Christmas, not by lighting four candles on the successive Sundays of Advent, but by ritually presenting the Southern Cross with its four stars.

Everyone knows that the Cross is the constellation that in a way belongs to us here in this “Great South Land” of ours.

Over the four Sundays of Advent that lead to Christmas Day I used four cut-outs of stars, one a week, to shape the familiar Cross against a backdrop of blue-black material placed on the sanctuary (like the familiar Advent candles).

I was prompted to this after reading, while in the Kimberley, a poem by the Australian poet, Rex Ingamell. The poem reflected on the Dreaming, familiar to us from Aboriginal Culture; in some places the word Alcheringa stands for Dreaming.

The last five words of Ingamell’s poem imagine Aboriginal people looking into the southern skies and bringing the ‘cross' into their mythology.

These are the last five lines that with poetic licence give us Ingamell’s image of a “spirit’s” remote first coming to the lives of Aboriginal people; it all happened:

   “… once in starry hours when Earth

   grew big and heavy with Alcheringa

   and the vast beauty of little fires swung

   a master constellation

   announcing the spirit”. [See end note[1] for the full text of the poem.]

The poet links planet earth, pregnant with Aboriginal mythology (Alcheringa = Dreaming), to the movement of stars across our southern skies.

There is a hint of mystery in an influential “spirit” out there among the stars that moved across the night sky millennia ago to influence Australia’s Aboriginal people as they sought to interpret life’s mystery. We are looking at “events” of maybe fifty thousand years ago, and more. At least, that’s how the poet saw it.

So there were the first two Sundays, with two stars placed, instead of candles. One was for the stars in the heavens before human mythology was born, the other for the birth of the world’s oldest surviving culture and its Dreaming mythology.   

Now to the 3rd Star/3rd Sunday. Long after those starry hours of almost “time immemorial” came the story of Abraham and Sarah in what we call the Judaeo-Christian tradition. We read their story in the Bible’s Book of Genesis.

Abraham and Sarah with people of their time were nomads, not unlike Indigenous peoples here Australia at the same time. Maybe 1,800 years before the birth of Christ (BCE), Abraham understood his God to be promising him that his ancestors would be more numerous than the stars of the heavens. Abraham responded as a man of faith, a man ready to move.

The New Community Bible explains:

 “Faith places us at the service of God whose work is to bless and save   mankind. In you [Abraham] all peoples of the earth will be blessed”.

Prompted by the “spirit” of the skies, poet Ingamell, as we saw, presumed to summon up Australian Aboriginal people with their astral mythology; they were finding life in the Southern Hemisphere.

Millennia later Abraham and Sarah were in the Northern Hemisphere whose stars would be no match for the number of their descendents. There is much for us in our “multicultural” Southern Hemisphere Australia to reflect upon with the placing of the third star.

To the 4th Star/4th Sunday. We know that our Australian Indigenous people have often been consigned to darkness during our short shared history under the Southern Cross. One renowned anthropologist (Bill Stanner, by name) coined the phrase “sad finality” to express their life’s journey.

That same anthropologist who spoke of “sad finality” had another phrase for the Aboriginal spirit; within their world view they knew how “to collapse into laughter”.

Remember from the story of Abraham and old Sarah, how Sarah laughed when she was told she would fall pregnant within the year; it seemed a starry-eyed prediction, laughable!

Humour, if not always laughter, has been described as dealing with the incongruous; it allows us to cope with loss, aberrations, atrocities even.

As the fourth star was placed we reminded ourselves that though dark nights can conceal the stars in our southern skies, we never lose confidence that they are still there, and will reappear.

It’s possible, too, that we don’t think often enough that our Sun is a star; it is, in fact, the star closest to us, and upon which we depend for the prosperity which runs with our blessings on one another at Christmas: Season’s Greetings and a Prosperous New Year to you.

The fourth star placed completed our Southern Cross under which we of many cultures in Australia now live with Indigenous folk; with them we hope for peace and shared prosperity for peoples throughout the world.

That small fifth star? Advent leads to Christmas which is ‘Emmanuel’: God is with us in Jesus –– think of Jesus born, the emergent star of the story.

Noel McMaster CSsr is a retired Catholic priest who worked for twenty five years in cross-cultural mission in the East Kimberley region of Australia. His book The Worthwhileness of it All, – Writing from the Kimberley a retired Catholic priest attests to the value of an evolutionary faith perspective is available from David Lovell Publishing.

[1]               To Mirrabooka

Mirrabooka across the still branches

of trees that are older than settlement and now dark,

but bright with Alcheringa, my spirit calls to you …

Lacking artificial daylight

to help them imagine

the immense night inferior,

now may my people

walking in black-out,

expelled from their neon-niche,

find you Mirrabooka.

Let your pinarroo branches

sinew the heart,

your ancient hills

hallow the soul,

as once in starry hours when Earth

grew big and heavy with Alcheringa

and the vast beauty of little fires swung

a master constellation

announcing the spirit.