Matthew 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” … 9 they went on their way. And 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. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.
As an amateur astronomer, there are few times of year that frustrate me as much as right now. Every year it seems, in one astronomy magazine or another, someone is trying to give the definitive “explanation” for the Christmas Star (actually a center-piece of today’s celebration of Epiphany). Some astronomers are gracious enough to try and do it as a way of giving the nod to the quaint (but nice) traditions of the Christian holiday. In essence giving proof that it might actually have been real. Others are simply out to try and debunk Christianity and anything relating to it outright. In essence saying don’t be a chump. But unfortunately, in almost every single case, whether well intentioned or not, they end up doing neither well … much less definitively.
You see, the problem is that they all begin from the wrong place, so there is no possible way they can end up in the right one. Each astronomer I have ever read on the subject (and I have been subjected to many of them over the years!) is more than happy to trace back the motions of the planets and known solar system bodies like asteroids and comets. Most are willing to consider such possibilities as supernovae, GRB’s (gamma ray bursts), rare alignments and alternate datings according to Jewish, Roman or ancient Babylonian astrological calendars. But few are ever willing to take God’s Word at face value.
Sadly the only one I have encountered who was willing to do so, did so only so that he could definitively laugh it off as full of contradictions and nonsense which cannot be believed. Stars that come and go, stars that move and then stop just can’t be explained! But at least he read Matthew’s account for what it said.
Such disregard for the Word, and the clear meaning it conveys – as it is written – is a subtle and all-to-familiar trap into which we “learned” people so often fall. Trying to make sense of what “really” was when what the Bible says couldn’t possibly be. And we don’t just do it with the Christmas star, we do it with the Scripture’s clear words on the sanctity of life, the roles of men and women, the definition of marriage, the nature and power of the sacraments. If it doesn’t make sense we try to cram it into a box where it might (with no regard of what we might be losing or trimming to make it work!)
As if we and we alone in all the history of the world are the first to be capable of judging such things rightly, when so many who went before were so obviously wrong. As if our sense or wisdom or understanding is somehow better than God’s! Yet trying to find completely natural (and rational) explanations for the supernatural workings of God simply deny that God is truly supernatural or even at work!
So what was the Christmas Star? I don’t know, nor do I need to know. How do we explain it? We don’t, because we can’t. Begin your quest in the right place and you are much more likely to end up where you need to be. When you consider again the Christmas Star, this Epiphany be like the truly wise men of old and simply heed its call to follow where it leads in all its supernatural strangeness … to the Saviour of the world, Jesus who is Christ, the Lord. Amen.