It's been a while since I've written this blog, but my absence is all work related (and being very un-technical, I could never get the computer to function for any length of time except to send a sporadic email).
Believe it or not, we've already started work on the Christmas special — and are you in for a treat! It's another show about "Facts, Fictions and Faith." This time, we are investigating Bible stories related to Christmas. I just returned from a trip to Amsterdam and London, with my producer Peter Russo, to shoot the first leg of the special.
I visited a town about 40 miles from Amsterdam to interview a devout Christian Dutchman named Johan Huibers, who built — with his own hands — a replica of Noah's Ark. (Yes, the actual ark in the Old Testament!) However, this ark is about one-fifth the dimensions specified in the Bible, but it's still nearly the length of a football field. You might say it's the real life version of the recent movie, "Evan Almighty" (which I loved by the way and saw twice in three days!).
Johan says that God told him to build the ark ... but not because there'll be a flood. (Remember, God promised never to do that again, and sent the rainbow as a sign of that covenant.) Johan built the Ark to bring people back to God. In the Netherlands, church attendance is practically nil. Johan says prosperity and living in a place that looks like heaven has made people feel like they don't need God. It seems that when you have all of your needs met materially and physically, God just doesn't figure into the mix.
It's a situation that many people have. They ask, “What do I need God for? I have a great job, I've got talent, a great work ethic and a great family.” But Johan wants to remind people that God is greater and bigger than your talents, career and family — so the ark replica is actually an interactive tool to teach the Gospel.
On the day we were there, scores of children were touring the ark. It created challenges for conducting an interview, since the ark's three floors are open from top to bottom; children were scurrying around and chatting throughout. My mother, who went along on the trip, turned into our crowd control expert — leave it to a retired elementary school teachers' aid to know how to handle the wee ones!
Many people may ask what Noah's Ark had to do with Jesus, since the story of the great flood is in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament and the Christmas story of Jesus' birth is the beginning of the New Testatment. Plus, all three of the major world religions — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — all preach about the story of Noah and the flood.
Scripturally speaking, Christian theologians call all of the Old Testament main players precursors of Jesus. They call Jesus a greater Noah, a greater Moses and a greater David; that all of them represent God choosing a righteous man through which to carry out his work of redemption. But the redemption was short-lived because man's sinful nature always brought calamity. All throughout the Old Testament, righteous characters were pointing toward the one who would provide redemption forever, and for everyone — giving Noah's story deep religious meaning. Johan sees Noah as a way for the bridge to bring the people of these three major religions together — the common brotherhood of Noah. (Read Genesis 6:9 to get the whole story.)
The next stop was London, where we visited the city to research what is the most recognizable symbol of Christianity outside of the cross: the Star of Bethlehem. What was it? Where did it come from? Was it an astronomical occurrence like a comet or a star configuration? Or was it simply something the Gospel writer created to enhance the story of Jesus' birth?
What we know about the Bible's reference to the star is that it is only mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew and only three times. It is not mentioned in the Gospels of Mark, Luke or John. Here's exactly what is said of the Star of Bethlehem:
Matthew 2: 1 "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
Matthew 2: 7 "Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared."
Matthew 2: 9 "After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was."
So there you have the entire reference to the Star of Bethlehem in the Bible. It's rather cryptic and gives no indication what the star actually was. We do know that astrology and astronomy were very tightly woven disciplines in ancient times; they were not separate as they are today. The Magi, or Kings as they're sometimes called, were probably schooled in the area of astronomy and astrology. (Astronomy is the science of the motion of the stars. Astrology is the practice of how the stars' motions can predict the future and affect people's personalities and lives.) So the Magi truly believed, from their reading of the stars, that some great event was happening.
[A side note: The Magi were in search of a King and so it made perfect sense to them to look for a King in the Palace of King Herod. The only problem was, Herod was evil and killed people like most of us swat at mosquitoes; he even killed one of his own sons. So alerting him to the birth of a '"king of the Jews" only heightened Herod's paranoia. After he realized the Magi would not lead him to the child, he decreed that all male Jewish children under two years of age should be put to death. Sound familiar? See the story of Moses.]
Our expert in London was Sir Patrick Moore, an elderly, lordly gentlemen who has the distinction of the longest running television show in history ... 50 years. He lives in a stately English Manor house called "Farthings," about a two-hour drive south of London, near the coast. His study is filled with relics of his life as an astronomer, musician and Knight of the Realm. Sir Patrick has studied the planets and has written books on astronomy, including a book on the Star of Bethlehem. He does not have a religious background; his area of expertise is science, which is why he makes a great addition to the show. He told us he could not be sure of what the star was ... but he was certain of what it wasn't.
That's a tease! You'll have to watch the show to get all the details. But the clue is that if the star were a normal astronomical event, it would have been seen by thousands of people and likely recorded in some other source than the Bible. So, was it a divine interruption in time seen only by a few and never recorded? We'll be talking with more experts on the case.
The final leg of our European tour was back in London proper, where we looked at one of my favorite works of music of all time: "Handel's Messiah," or as I like to call it, "The Miracle of Messiah." Even non-musical types will be familiar with the famous Hallelujah chorus, which concludes the second of three parts of Messiah.
The oratorio (a concert work for chorus, orchestra and soloists) was composed in 1741 in London, by German transplant George Frederic Handel. The question about this piece is, was it a divinely inspired work? Or just the product of a workaholic composer/musician who normally wrote at a fever-pitched speed?
What fascinates me most about this musical masterpiece is that it is like a Cliff Note version of the Bible. Nowhere before, and no time since, has the Bible's narrative of redemption through a Messiah been put in music form. This three hour work was composed in 24 days. The libretto (the words/verses) was assembled by Charles Jennens, a friend of Handel's. The entire text is taken from Old and New Testament scripture. The piece opens with a grave overture which quickly moves into a lighter and faster element. Both predict the trauma and hope in the coming drama.
There are countless urban legends surrounding the process of Handel's work on the piece. One is that as he was composing the Hallelujah Chorus, the angel Gabriel came to him; another story is that he'd locked himself in his study, his servants could hear him weeping as he poured over the sacred words of scripture and setting them to music.
"Comfort ye my people."
"For unto us a child is born."
"Surely he hath born our griefs and carried our sorrows."
"By his stripes we are healed."
"Hallelujah, the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!"
And the verse that is on his grave in Westminster Abbey: "I know my Redeemer liveth."
It's really an incredible work that has survived more than two and a half centuries as a crowd favorite. The theological and religious impact is certainly not as strong as it once was, but the message is still the same.
So please stay tuned to FOX Fan as we'll have more updates on the Christmas special, as well as some behind the scenes pictures and video!
Lauren Green serves as a religion correspondent for the FOX News Channel. Prior to this, Green served as a news anchor for “Fox and Friends,” where she provided daily news updates and covered arts for the network. You can read her complete bio here.
Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996. Her new book is "Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog."