The stars in constellations are thousands of light years apart (well, some of them are). And some of these stars may even no longer exist. They are so far away that if they blew up, we wouldn’t know about it for a thousand years.
But because we are where we are, when we are, together they look like a cup. Or like a bull. Or a guy wearing a belt. They make sense to us, and may even help point us home if we were lost.
Orion is one of the best examples of what I’m talking about here.
Betelgeuse, the bright red star that is Orion’s left shoulder, it is about 640 light years from earth. Bellatrix, though, the other shoulder star, is only 200 light years from earth, three times closer. Mintaka, the rightmost star in the belt, is 1200 light years away from the earth. If you look at it tonight, the light that hits your retina left the star around 600 AD.
Orion only looks like a guy wearing a belt because we are, where we are, when we are. If we lived in a different part of the universe, he wouldn’t look like much of anything.
Constellations have helped people for a long time find their way home.
We are talking about constellations during Advent, the time of year when we remember the promised birth of Jesus, because there is a star that plays a prominent role in the Christmas story. It will help some people find their way home, find their way to Jesus. But it’s not at all what they think it is.