“Star Child”

TITLE:"Star Child"
AUTHOR: ShirleyErena Murray (b.1931)
COMPOSER: Carlton R. Young (b.1926)
SOURCE: The Faith We Sing, no. 2095
SCRIPTURE:Exodus 24:12-18; Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 2:1-12 (13-23); Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 2:1-20; 2 Timothy 2:5; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
TOPIC: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Incarnation, justice, social justice, social gospel


Shirley Erena Murray (b. 1931) was born in Invercargill, New Zealand. The wide-ranging subject matter of her texts, including the sacraments, inclusiveness, the liturgical year, nonviolence, personal faith, social justice, and ecology, has resulted in her hymns being included in more than fifty collections from all over the world. Prior to her achievements as a hymn writer, Murray was a teacher; and she produced hymn programs on the radio. Her middle name is derived from the Greek word for peace (eirene), and peace and peace-making are prominent themes in her texts. In 2001 Murray was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit on the occasion of the Queen's birthday "for services to the community as a writer of hymns," the first New Zealand hymn writer so honored. Her texts in The Faith We Sing include:

  • 2048, "God Weeps"
  • 2059, "I Am Your Mother"
  • 2095, "Star-Child"
  • 2123, "Loving Spirit"
  • 2128, "Come and Find the Quiet Center"
  • 2177, "Wounded World that Cries for Healing"
  • 2185, "For One Great Peace"
  • 2225, "Who Is My Mother, Who Is My Brother"
  • 2255, "In the Singing"

Her texts in Worship & Song include:

  • 3018, "Creation Sings"
  • 3020, "God of the Bible"
  • 3084, "O Christ, You Hang upon a Cross"
  • 3126, "Everything that Has Voice"
  • 3129, "Touch the Earth Lightly"
  • 3149, "A Place at the Table"
  • 3159, "Let Our Earth Be Peaceful"

Carlton R. Young (b. 1926), an ordained elder in the East Ohio Conference, was born in Hamilton, Ohio, and served in the Air Force during World War II. A teacher, editor, composer, and conductor, he has the unique distinction of serving as editor of two revisions of hymnals for Methodists: The Methodist Hymnal, 1966, and The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989. He is the author of Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon, 1993). Dr. Young, known to his friends as "Sam," has served on the faculties and directed graduate studies in church music at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, and Scarritt College. He is emeritus Professor of Church Music at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He is a Past-President and Fellow of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, and he is the first American to be named an honorary member of The British Methodist Church Music Society. From 1966-1988, he was the director of music for nine General Conferences of The Methodist Church and The United Methodist Church. Since 1971, he has been a consultant and editor (emeritus) with Hope Publishing Co., where he served as executive editor of Ecumenical Praise ; the festschrift Duty and Delight (Routley Remembered; as well as Our Lives Be Praise (Erik Routley's Tunes and Texts). Hope also published his Music of the Heart: John and Charles Wesley on Music and Musicians (1995). In retirement, he continues to edit, write, and compose from the "Owls Nest" in his Nashville, Tennessee, home.

Tunes by Carlton Young in The Faith We Sing include:

  • 2047, WESTCHASE
  • 2048, HIROSHIMA
  • 2095, STAR CHILD
  • 2255, BREAD OF PEACE

Tunes by Carlton Young in Worship & Song include:

  • 3146, ADIEU
  • 3159, RAYMOND


"Star-Child" is a contemporary hymn for Advent or Christmas. Despite the word "Christmas" in its refrain, the text is actually more suited to Advent. Its structure is wonderfully simple, with verses consisting of short, mostly two-word images describing both the world's children as well as the coming Christ child, with a refrain expressing the hope that everyone alive will experience the coming of Christ this year.

Each verse begins with paired images followed by a short description:

  • "Star-Child, earth-Child": The capitalized Child refers specifically to Jesus, son of God the creator of the universe, yet born on earth fully human; juxtaposes images of the Jesus of heaven and the Jesus of earth, both divine and human. Jesus is the "go-between" or intercessor between God and mankind.
  • "Street child, beat child": There are people -- children and adults -- without homes and families, living on the streets, in the cold, beaten down by life's circumstances, "no place left to go."
  • "Grown child, old child": Even older people with a lifetime of memories, are children of God.
  • "Spared child, spoiled child": There are people of privilege and comfort, spared the struggle of the streets, spoiled by all that they have, yet "wanting more."
  • "Hope-for-peace Child": Jesus born on earth is a "stupendous sign" from God that we can hope for peace.

Each verse continues with a second pair of images and a second short description:

  • "love Child, Christ Child": Again capitalized, referring to Jesus. As "heaven's lightning rod," Jesus is God's means of entering into our human, earthly existence, quickly, dramatically, powerfully, as lightning in a storm.
  • "hurt child, used child": As with its paired "street" and "beat child," there are those among us on the edges of society, people we may not even want to know or acknowledge.
  • "sad child, lost child": There are those who suffer and hurt, have no direction, no goal, no joy, whose life stories are "told in tears."
  • "wise child, faith child": And there are people whose lives have led them to maturity and wisdom in the faith.
  • "down-to-earth Child": Amid all these images of humans, good images and unfortunate images, Jesus, as the divine star-Child, has come to earth to live among us and in us. He is the bright "Star of stars that shine."

The refrain is a plea that this year "Christmas comes to everyone alive," including the street and beat, the hurt and used, the grown and old, the sad and lost, the spared and spoiled, and the wise and faithful. The prayer that this year Christmas will come to all is a prayer that everyone will know, recognize, and experience the coming of the Christ child in the many and varied circumstances of their lives. The text is related to the Matthew 2:1-12 account of the wise men sent out by Herod to find the child born king of the Jews, their following the star to Bethlehem, finding Jesus and Mary, worshiping him and offering their gifts.


Carlton Young's music for this text in The Faith We Sing is a marvelous study in itself. He uses a pair of ascending two-note motives for the first two child-images in each stanza, followed by an ascending five-note scale passage for the descriptive phrase. This structure is a mirrored opposite in the second phrase, using two two-note motives for the second pair of child-images, this time descending in direction, again followed by a scale passage, but descending. He continues the two two-note motives in the refrain for "this year," one ascending and one descending, followed by a descending passage filling out an octave, with yet another octave passage that ascends. The music is a reflection of the images contained in the text, careful and inspired musical writing, to be sure. Some hymnals have chosen a different tune for this text -- an unfortunate choice. As editor of both the 1966 and 1989 Methodist and United Methodist hymnals, Carlton Young's contributions to United Methodist congregational singing are of great and lasting significance, and his influence continues in his eleven contributions to The Faith We Sing as composer or arranger and five more in Worship & Song.

Guitars can accompany this hymn with simple chords, one per measure and two in the penultimate measure, as follows:

VERSES: || D | A/C# | Bm | F#m | Em | D/F# | G | A |
REFRAIN: | D | A/C# | Bm| D | G | D| G A7 | D ||
We often wonder where are the new Christmas songs that may someday take their place in the repertoire along with "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World." "Star-Child" is one of those. Sing it during Advent. Sing it at Christmas. Teach it to children's choirs and Sunday School classes. Use it as the basis for an Advent sermon series or small-group study. Hum it as you drive to work or prepare dinner. It speaks to and will be loved by all ages.


See more Hymn Studies.

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