Is it the Christmas Star?
The Christmas star leading the Wise Men to Bethlehem is one of the beloved aspects of the story of Jesus’ birth. It is a central part of the Gospel of Matthew’s version of the story of Jesus’ nativity. In that Gospel, the star was observed at its rising by the Wise Men. The Gospel says they followed it from their homes in the East until it comes to rest over Joseph and Mary’s house in Bethlehem.
One theory is the Wise Men were Zoroastrian astrologers who studied the stars and searched the sky for omens as their life’s work. When they saw a new star arise in the sky, it was a sign to them that a new influential leader had been born. Their first instinct was to seek out this newborn child so that they could give him honor and worship.
What was the Star of Bethlehem? Was it a natural or supernatural occurrence? Was it a comet racing through space on an established path but visible on earth only once in a human’s natural lifetime? Was it a supernova, an explosion of solid matter bursting apart in a tremendous natural nuclear explosion somewhere millions of miles off in the galaxy? Or, was it the periodic alignment of bright planets on their revolution around the Sun? Astronomers have suggested all of these possibilities as explanations for the Star of Bethlehem.
The significant conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn and the star Regulus’s rare alignment in the year 2 BC are a possible scientific explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. On Monday, December 21, 2020, the two planets Jupiter and Saturn will seem from earth to pass so closely together they appear as one body. The two planets’ orbits typically pass close to each other about every twenty years. Astrologers use this unusual alignment to mark the passing of eras. However, this year’s alignment brings them exceptionally close. On Monday, they appear divided by only 1/10 of a degree of separation. The planets have not passed this closely since 1623. That time their orbits brought them to the edge of the horizon, but they were not observable from the earth by the naked eye. It has been almost 800 years since the planets could be observed this close together without assistance from a telescope. That was back in the Middle Ages on March 4, 1226. They won’t come this close together again until about 2400.
Is this great conjunction the natural explanation for the star of Bethlehem? It could be. We don’t know for sure. We tend to like to try to find a natural reason for a miracle. The Star of Bethlehem could have a natural explanation. However, it could have been miraculous. A one-time occurrence created uniquely by God. In faith, we can see many instances that we can’t explain away as natural phenomenon. The Star of Bethlehem might be one of them. It is important to remember whether the star has a natural or supernatural explanation. It had a tremendous influence on the Wise Men and caused them to marvel at God’s power in their lives. It caused them to go to great lengths to grow in faith.
Monday evening, take the time to witness for yourself the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Maybe you will see the Star of Bethlehem. Regardless, as you contemplate the heavens, take a few moments to be humbled by the vastness of the universe, all created by a wonderful God.