This post is by our own Pastor Neubauer.
Did you have chance to see the “Christmas Star?” In case you haven’t heard that phrase, it is a reference to the fact that Jupiter and Saturn are passing “near” enough to each other that if you have poor eyesight like me you will see only one “star.” I was home too late to see it at its closest Monday night, but we had a beautiful view of their approach on Saturday.
It’s pretty neat to see an event that doesn’t happen very often.
All the news prompted this question from a member: “What should faithful LCMSers like myself believe about the Christmas Star?”
Well, here is a summary of what I’ve learned (you’ll notice a lack of academic references) over the years.
There are two basic ways to explain the Bethlehem star that lead the magi to Jesus. Either, it was a supernatural star created by God for the purpose of leading these Gentile court astronomers to Christ. Or, it was a naturally occurring phenomenon that had the same effect.
The behavior of the star, as recorded by Matthew, seems to lend itself to this explanation. The Magi began their trip when the star rose, but it seems to have faded or disappeared for a while. It also seems that the magi made their way to the political capital, Jerusalem, where it would be most reasonable to find a new born king.
The scribes refer to Micah’s prophecy for the birthplace of Bethlehem. It is as they are leaving to head toward Bethlehem that “behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house...” Matthew 2:9-11a. This reappearing, which seems to lead to the very house where Jesus and family is residing is the strongest case for the star being supernatural. While stars are great for navigation in general, they aren’t usually precise enough to lead to a house (nope, no GPS back then).
Honestly, the One who called all the stars into existence could certainly create a single light source to lead the first Gentiles to where the Christ was.
I don’t rule out a natural occurrence among the stars as a possibility. The reason for this is mostly because of Genesis 1:14. “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so.” God’s people were never to worship the stars or read them for astrology, but that doesn’t rule out this use of the stars as “signs.”
The best natural explanations have to do with planet conjunctions like the one we have now. The best of these may be an alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, the moon and the sun in the constellation of Aries on April 17, 6 B.C. Another popular option, one that is talked about in planetarium shows, is the meeting of Jupiter, Venus and the star Regulus in the constellation of Leo on June 17, 2 B.C.
Since God’s most common mode of operating is through “natural” means, it wouldn’t at all surprise me that a conjunction of planets would be part of the “fullness of time” when “God sent forth his Son, born of woman” Galatians 4:4.
In the end, I can’t give you a clear answer on HOW the star lead these Gentiles to Jesus. What is important is THAT the star did so. This one born “King of the Jews” is not for the Jews only, but all the world, you and I included all these centuries later. This is also why we continue to remember Epiphany along with Christmas. Epiphany is the 13th day “of” Christmas and is often referred to as the Gentile’s Christmas. We remember these Magi who brought gifts fit for a king and bowed down in worship.