“The Christmas Star”, from Douglas Estes; Christianity Today (See Jesus, Light of the World, Wonder)

Why We Keep Asking about the Christmas Star

This week’s Jupiter-Saturn conjunction represents one of dozens of theories trying to explain the sign that pointed Magi to Jesus. DOUGLAS ESTES|

Why We Keep Asking about the Christmas Star

Image: Chris McGrath / Getty ImagesThis December, Saturn and Jupiter (upper and lower right) are approaching their closest visible conjunction and will form a rare “double planet” on December 21.

Jupiter isn’t a star. Neither is Saturn. But for one night only, on the winter solstice, they will be.

If we look up at the sky at the right time, we will see the great conjunction of 2020. Low on the horizon for most observers, Jupiter and Saturn have been visibly moving toward each other for days. On the evening of December 21, these two planets will be so close that they will appear to the naked eye as almost one—a bright star in the heavens.

The last time there was a visible great conjunction? 1226. Francis of Assisi had just passed, and the great doctor of the church, Thomas Aquinas, was recently born.

Before that, the most famous great conjunction occurred in 7 B.C.—auspiciously close to the birth of Jesus. Close enough that some believe that the great conjunction is the Star of Bethlehem. Could it be?

Star of wonder, star of night

It seems like every year we’re eager to offer another speculation or theory for this piece of the Christmas story—a detail in a single Gospel account that has come to loom large in our retellings and depictions of Christ’s birth.

Nativity scenes in storybooks and light-up lawn displays are topped with a telltale twinkling star. It’s a sign that from the moment Christ was born, he caught people’s attention and drew them to worship.

Our obsession with the star phenomenon is somewhat unusual since we modern people rarely look up to study the skies, given the glitter that exists today below the horizon. But the movement of stars in the sky attracted attention in the ancient world.

Today, stargazing is a quaint activity of a bygone era, but in the ancient world it was the raw materials for calendars and omens, mythologies and agricultures, dreams and divinations.

The stars had many uses. Stars also had many interpretations. For ancient peoples, stars were the greatest reminder that there was purpose in creation, a purpose that unfolded night after night as they watched the stars trek across the night sky.

Even as the stars fascinated—and sometimes frightened—ancient peoples, from the Babylonians to the Romans, their wise men worked diligently to understand their movements and signs. The same is true of the most famous star from the ancient world, the Christmas star—if it even was a star. To this day, it is a mystery.

There seem to be almost as many theories about the Christmas star as there are descendents of Abraham. It’s a question that has interested theologians, astronomers, and everyday believers for centuries, and judging by the attention toward the latest planetarily aligned “Christmas star,” it still does.

The theories trying to explain the Star of Bethlehem tend to fall into five categories. A bit of a Christmas countdown, then:

5. The star was extraterrestrial.

Although “extraterrestrial” today makes us think of UFOs and little green men, ancient Mediterranean peoples believed in a menagerie of off-world creatures that interacted in the heavens. For example, the Roman leader Cicero, like many Romans, believed that the stars were lesser deities. John Chrysostom, the archbishop of Constantinople, wondered whether the star was an actually angel due to the precision of its movements.

4. The star was symbolic.

Although a staple of Christmas everywhere, the Star of Bethlehem only appears in Matthew’s gospel. Since Matthew views Jesus as a king, a descendent of David, he may use the star as a sign that the Magi use to announce the birth of Jesus. This could be the point of Balaam’s final oracle: “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:15–19).

3. The star was supernatural.

Another belief is that the Christmas star was supernaturally conjured: The Father made a light for his Son. And that’s that, a kind of divine #micdrop within the miraculous Christmas story.

Star with royal beauty bright

2. The star was astrological.

The Magi certainly engaged in astrology, especially since ancient ideas about astrology covered much more area than our modern definition. In the ancient world, astrology saturated the culture of the elites so much that Augustus Caesar defended his right to rule by publishing his horoscope on coins. In the last decade, astronomer Michael Molnar reset the discussion of the meaning of the Christmas star with a chance encounter with ancient coins that depict the zodiac.

For many Christians, this type of theory is a hard one to consider. The Bible condemns divination and astrology (Deut. 4:19; 18:10; Isa. 47:13–14). Early church fathers such as Tertullian charged astrologers with idolatry, and the church at large has always held it to be a fruitless attempt to trump God’s sovereignty. But if God can use foolish Balaam and the casting of lots, can God use astrology?

Astrology and astronomy are the most popular explanations offered for the star throughout history, each with dozens, if not hundreds, of variations. Like the great conjunction of 2020, they require us to look up and ponder the heavens.

1. The star was astronomical.

This group of theories includes everything from comets to supernovae. A natural, astral phenomenon that brings glory to God and upholds the fine-tuning of his creation. This group of theories also includes planetary conjunctions, just like the one we’ll see right after sunset this week in the southwestern sky.

The star-like light shining on the horizon days before Christmas is no mere planetary conjunction, nor even mere great conjunction (“great” being the title given to an aligning of the two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, which occurs in a small way every 20 years). It is one of the great conjunctions, those that occur every 400 years—and the one that famed astronomer Johannes Kepler first calculated to 7 B.C. and proposed as the Star of Bethlehem. Kepler even lived through one of the great conjunctions himself in 1623, but sadly one that was probably too low to the horizon for him to see.

Westward leading, still proceeding

Whether trying to spot an astrological phenomenon like the great conjunction or even just reading about the Magi who “saw his star when it rose” (Matt. 2:2), Christmas prompts us to ponder the heavens. We imagine what it was like to live in a world where every night gave an unpolluted view of the stars and wonder what it was that those traveling wise men saw that led them to make the trip.

Theologians and astronomers alike continue to put forward their theories, none conclusive, prompting even more curiosity from us as Christians. Instead of picking one, the answer may be closer to “all of the above.”

According to Matthew, the only people who “saw” the star are the Magi. It is possible they “saw” the star first on their astrological tables, then found it in the night sky—perhaps in a conjunction of planets that would not seem overly significant to the superstitious but less sophisticated Herod and his advisors (Matt. 2:7). It is possible that a real astronomical event such as a great conjunction precipitated the Magi’s astrological search, and their astrological search pointed back to the astronomical event.

For many of Matthew’s readers, an astronomical-astrological sign would likely be evidence of Jesus’ kingship. This is true even if most of his intended readers were Jewish Christians—people who loved God but who lived in a world surrounded by cultural realities such as the zodiac and the casting of lots (Acts 1:26). The life of early unorthodox Christians such as Bardaiṣan of Edessa who struggled with astrology and the mosaic floors of ancient Jewish synagogues that included zodiacs reveals a less than tidy picture.

Matthew also tells us that the Magi describe the star that they see as “his” (Matt 2:2). To the Magi, the star is not simply a random sign, but an enduring symbol of the “King of the Jews.” From the prophecies of Balaam to the words of Jesus to the Christmas carols we sing, the star remains a persistent symbol of the Savior who comes from the heavens into our world.

The fact that God aligns the planets and the people to conjunct in just the right space at just the right time to herald the birth of his Son? Supernatural. And a God who so loved the world that he would even bother to pierce space and time to deliver his only begotten son into the arms of strangers and aliens (Eph. 2:19)? Extraterrestrial!

Guide us to thy perfect light

The world we inhabit today is a wonder. It is a wonder of human thought, human effort, and human glory. The lame can walk, and the blind can see. We can even walk on (virtual) water. It is a slowly escalating Towel of Babel that we just can’t look away from.

But the stars still draw us to a wonder we cannot claim or control any more than the wise men long ago. On Monday night, the show we don’t want to miss is the one that will happen right above us, a byproduct of revelation, and like Matthew describes, on the rise near the horizon.

Douglas Estes is associate professor of New Testament and practical theology at South University. He is the editor of Didaktikos, and his latest books are Braving the Future: Christian Faith in a World of Limitless Techand The Tree of Life.

Source: Christianity Today

“Love in the Balance of Heaven and Earth”, a worship poem from L.Willows (Glory of God, Majesty, Near to God)

Love in the Balance of Heaven and Earth

In the mountain tops, I answered,
Near the white cloud mist’s hold.
Where shoulders of green bear gentle earth mothers.
They call up horizons, they reach to sky’s fold.
Bearing weight all, caring with nests filled with gold.

Sweetened with sunlight shed full upon
Mountain fellows, their faces, turned by lives worn.
Here on their shoulders, high in the sky,
dipped in the blue is a Majesty’s cry.

Love in the balance of heaven and earth
dreams reach to thee as the clouds fall with mirth.
All into shoulders of gentle green peaks
like mounds of earth mothers that fall, quake, birth, seek.

Soft are the bellows, on sky mounds that run
lovingly towards home near to the sun.
Angels paint rainbows in tomorrow’s new day
from the mountaintop’s glory, in horizons we pray.

© 2019 Linda Willows

Colossians 1:16
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

Psalm 95:3-5
For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 19:1
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

“Behold, Hear His Voice, Open the Door”, Charles H. Spurgeon on Revelation 3:20 (See Jesus, Receive His Love, Believe)

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Revelation 3:20
“0 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Charles H. Spurgeon, Sermon on Revelation 3:20

(July 26, 1874, delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington)

‘Behold,’ saith he, ‘I stand at the door and knock.’ I have known this text preached upon to sinners numbers of times as though Christ knocked at their door and they had to open it, and so on. The preacher has never managed to keep to free grace for this reason, that the text was not meant to be so used, and if men will ride a text the wrong way, it will not go. This text belongs to the church of God, not to the unconverted. It is addressed to the Laodicean church.

There is Christ outside the church, driven there by her unkindness, but he has not gone far away, he loves his church too much to leave her altogether, he longs to come back, and therefore he waits at the doorpost. He knows that the church will never be restored till he comes back, and he desires to bless her, and so he stands waiting, knocking and knocking, again and again; he does not merely knock once, but he stands knocking by earnest sermons, by providences, by impressions upon the conscience, by the quickenings of his Holy Spirit; and while he knocks he speaks, he uses all means to awaken his church.

Most condescendingly and graciously does he do this, for having threatened to spue her out of his mouth, he might have said, ‘I will get me gone; and I will never come back again to thee,’ that would have been natural and just; but how gracious he is when, having expressed his disgust he says, ‘Disgusted as I am with your condition, I do not wish to leave you; I have taken my presence from you, but I love you, and therefore I knock at your door, and wish to be received into your heart.

I will not force myself upon you, I want you voluntarily to open the door to me.’ Christ’s presence in a church is always a very tender thing. He never is there against the will of the church, it cannot be, for he lives in his people’s wills and hearts, and ‘worketh in them to will and to do of his own good pleasure.’

He does not break bolt and bar and come in as he often does into a sinner’s heart, carrying the soul by storm, because the man is dead in sin, and Christ must do it all, or the sinner will perish; but he is here speaking to living men and women, who ought also to be loving men and women, and he says, ‘I wish to be among you, open the door to me.’ We ought to open the door at once, and say, ‘Come in, good Lord, we grieve to think we should ever have put thee outside that door at all.’

And then see what promises he gives. He says he will come and sup with us. Now, in the East, the supper was the best meal of the day, it was the same as our dinner; so that we may say that Christ will come and dine with us. He will give us a rich feast, for he himself is the daintiest and most plenteous of all feasts for perishing souls. He will come and sup with us, that is, we shall be the host and entertain him: but then he adds, ‘and he with me,’ that is, he will be the host and guest by turns.

We will give him of our best, but poor fare is that, too poor for him, and yet he will partake of it. Then he shall be host, and we will be guest, and oh, how we will feast on what he gives! Christ comes, and brings the supper with him, and all we do is to find the room. The Master says to us, ‘Where is the guest chamber?’ and then he makes ready and spreads his royal table.

Now, if these be the terms on which we are to have a feast together, we will most willingly fling open the doors of our hearts and say, ‘Come in, good Lord.’ He says to you, ‘Children, have you any meat?’ and if you are obliged to say, ‘No, Lord,’ he will come in unto you none the less readily, for there are the fish, the net is ready to break, it is so full, and here are more upon the coals ready. I warrant you, if we sup with him, we shall be lukewarm no longer. The men who live where Jesus is soon feel their hearts burning.

It is said of a piece of scented clay by the old Persian moralist that the clay was taken up and questioned. ‘How camest thou to smell so sweetly, being nothing but common clay?’ and it replied, ‘I laid for many a year in the sweet society of a rose, until at last I drank in its perfume’; and we may say to every warm-hearted Christian, ‘How camest thou so warm?’ and his answer will be, ‘My heart bubbleth up with a good matter, for I speak of the things which I have made touching the King. I have been with Jesus, and I have learned of him.’

Now, brethren and sisters, what can I say to move you to take this last medicine? I can only say, take it, not only because of the good it will do you, but because of the sweetness of it. I have heard say of some persons that they were pledged not to take wine except as a medicine, but then they were very pleased when they were ill: and so if this be the medicine, ‘I will come and sup with him, and he with me,’ we may willingly confess our need of so delicious a remedy. Need I press it on you? May I not rather urge each brother as soon as he gets home today to see whether he cannot enter into fellowship with Jesus? and may the Spirit of God help him!

This is my closing word, there is something for us to do in this matter. We must examine ourselves, and we must confess the fault if we have declined in grace. An then we must not talk about setting the church right, we must pray for grace each one for himself, for the text does not say, ‘If the church will open the door,’ but ‘If any man hear my voice and open the door.’ It must be done by individuals: the church will only get right by each man getting right. Oh, that we might get back into an earnest zeal for our Lord’s love and service, and we shall only do so by listening to his rebukes, and then falling into his arms, clasping him once again, and saying, ‘My Lord and my God.’

That healed Thomas, did it not? Putting his fingers into the print of the nails, putting his hand into the side, that cured him. Poor, unbelieving, staggering Thomas only had to do that and he became one of the strongest of believers, and said, ‘My Lord and my God.’ You will love your Lord till your soul is as coals of juniper if you will daily commune with him. Come close to him, and once getting close to him, never go away from him anymore.

The Lord bless you, dear brethren, the Lord bless you in this thing.

PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON’ Revelation 3.

Charles H. Spurgeon

Spurgeons Sermon on Revelation 3:20 (entire) link to Rev. 3:14-21