In the Heavens Shone a Star

Further Reflections on Scripture References

This account of Jesus’ birth collapses time and brings shepherds and wise men to Jesus’ manger; it then asks us to follow them and look on with awe.


Global Songs for Worship


In the Heavens Shone a Star

Call to Worship

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
Jesus Christ is our life and light.
In his name and in his power, let us worship God!
—based on Isaiah 9:2, NIV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two


1 God of love,
all year long we pursue power and money,
yet you come in weakness.
All season long we covet great material gifts,
when you alone offer what is lasting.
Through the work of this Lord Jesus,
who comes among us full of grace and truth,
forgive us,
heal us,
correct us.
Then open our lips,
that we may sing your praise with the angels,
and remake our lives,
that we may witness to your transforming love.
Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

In the Heavens Shone a Star

Tune Information

E Major
Meter refrain 7.3

Musical Suggestion

Think of this carol as “Silent Night’s” mystical cousin from the Philippines. It tells the nativity story in such an ethereal way that you can almost see the stars twinkling and feel the cool night air on your skin. The legato melody should float on top of the repeated pattern in the accompaniment like oil on water. If you have handbells, have them double the ostinato (C#-A-E, E-B-C#) up one or two octaves.

— Greg Scheer

Stanza 1 describes a star in the night bringing light to herald the birth of Christ. Stanza 2 tells the story of the shepherds. But rather than focusing on the glorious message of the angels, the text continues with quiet awe as the shepherds greet the Christ child. The star returns in stanza 3, leading wise men on a journey until they too bow down to worship the Christ child and offer gifts befitting the birth of a king. The final stanza invites us also to adore the Holy Child “with wonder and with awe.”
The melody evokes the quiet and wonder of a starlit night, and the little refrain at the end invites an echoing repetition on the “Christmas Day,” as heard on the lovely recording on the Global Songs for Worship CD, also available from Faith Alive Christian Resources. The accompaniment could be played by keyboard, though the music begs for something more evocative of night skies and the vast and soundless speech communicated by the heavens (Psalm 19:1-4). A hymnal version like the one provided here almost always includes melody for the right hand and a lower bass accompaniment for the left hand. But the celestial setting invites a more treble, shimmering accompaniment. So I asked Joel Navarro if he would be willing to make some performance suggestions using higher instruments and perhaps adding a descant. He responded by composing an entire anthem for unison choir, handbells (or plucked guitar or harp), recorder (or flute), and cello (or possibly organ pedal as a substitute), with several performance suggestions.
You may purchase one copy of this anthem and make as many copies as you need for use in your school or congregation. This anthem is available for purchase as a download at Faith Alive Christian Resources, www.faithaliveresources.org.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 101)
— Emily Brink

This account of Jesus’ birth collapses time and brings shepherds and wise men to Jesus’ manger; it then asks us to follow them and look on with awe. The dreamy melody can be sung by children. The ostinato accompaniment sounds beautiful played by handbells.
— Greg Scheer

In the Heavens Shone a Star

Hymn Story/Background

Joel Navarro arranged this gentle Philippino Christmas song; it was first published in Global Songs for Worship (Faith Alive, 2010) and included on the recording of the same name accompanying that collection. He explained the source of the melody:
“Kalinga” refers to a highland people group in northern Philippines. Their pre-Christian music culture has survived Christianization, mainly by the Episocapl Church in the Philippines. Their music is characterized by the use of flat gongs, bamboo stomping tunes, zithers, and flutes.
Joel Navarro, in Reformed Worship 101 (September 2011)
— Reformed Worship

Author Information

Jonathan Malicsi is Professor of Linguistics at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, where he teaches courses in phonology, grammar, semantics, and sociolinguistics. He was the Coordinator of the UP English Language Project from 1991 through 1999, an assignment which measured the English proficiency of UP students systemwide, as well as of students and teachers in other universities, which led to the development of an alternative course design for college English. He is now the Coordinator of the English Linguistics Project, a research and extension service based at the UP Department of Linguistics.

He holds a BA in English, MA in Linguistics, and PhD in Philippine Studies (Anthropology & Sociology) from UP Diliman. He attended doctoral courses in Linguistics (Semantics, Sociolinguistics, and Language Planning) at the State University of New York in Buffalo as a Fulbright Fellow. He was a Research Fellow at the Regional Language Centre (RELC) in Singapore.

He served twice as Chairman of the UP Department of Linguistics and has held a series of professorial chairs in Linguistics since 1983. He has authored and co-authored books on English studies, published articles in local and international publications, and presented papers in local and international conferences. He designed the English language program at the Foreign Service Institute, including the intensive course for diplomats of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, and for top government officials of Timor Leste. He has served as consultant in terminological analysis for UNESCO, and in English, organizational communication, and research methods for various government and commercial institutions, notably the Foreign Service Institute, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Special Intelligence School of the AFP, National Computer Center, the Ayala Group of Companies, the Magsaysay Group of Companies, the Malayan Insurance Company, Accenture, Deutsche Knowledge Services, and Shangri-La Hotels. He has also served as a consultant in the GE English programs of several colleges and universities nationwide, from Laoag to Jolo.
— PlayHouse Production (http://playhouseproduction.blogspot.com/2013/09/language-and-voice-lecture-by-dr.html)

Harry Ellsworth Chandlee is a longtime professor of liturgy at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in the Philippines. He is author of “De Los Reyes, Supreme Bishop in the Philippines,” published in in 1962. 
— Emily Brink

Composer Information

Joel Navarro (b. 1955) is a professor of music at Singapore Bible College. Until 2014 he taught at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, teaching conducting and directing campus choirs. As the recipient of numerous awards in performance and education in his native Philippines, he is widely known as a conductor, educator, clinician, lecturer, writer, singer, recording artist, composer, arranger, stage actor, record producer, and music consultant. An active performer of music from different eras and ethnic traditions, he takes an ardent interest in post modern music and the music traditions and liturgies of the world. 
Navarro earned a master of music degree in choral conducting from the University of the Philippines and a doctor of musical arts degree in conducting at Michigan State University. He is known internationally as the former music director and conductor of the Ateneo de Manila University Glee Club, which has amassed a string of top prizes during the past 20 years in choral competitions worldwide. He also was a member of the 12 member editorial team for Lift Up Your Hearts.
— Lift Up Your Hearts (http://www.liftupyourheartshymnal.org)
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