Saturday, December 24, 2011

Did You Know? - Christmas 2011 (Pt-5)

How well do you know the Christmas story? Here are some lesser-known facts (& some conjecture) about what happened all those years ago...

The Christmas Star – What Was it Really?

One of the things that annoys me most about the weeks before Christmas is to see all the posts, emails, & articles resurface speculating about the nature of the Christmas star that the Magi saw. But in nearly every one of these, the authors and forwarders make the same mistake in that they've apparently only read half the story. It seems they pay close attention to the part about the Magi seeing the star appear at the moment of Jesus' birth, and from this they deduce all kinds of possible astronomical phenomena and possible dates to help determine the moment of the Nativity. They propose supernovae, planetary conjunctions, comets, even eclipses in attempts to bring the Biblical story into the realm of verifiable modern astronomical science. But for all their presumably sincere desire to authenticate the story, they seem to have entirely missed several key components - including the entire 2nd appearance of the star.

If it were unintentional, it's easily dismissible. However, with the incredible amount of investigative work that often accompanies these ideas it seems highly improbable that the author didn't bother to read all the information available in the original story before staring a scientific investigation. So this leaves me to conclude that it is being ignored - likely because no known astronomical event can explain all the details of the story ... which pretty clearly rules out all of the proposed ideas. If correct, this is not only bad science (ignoring the data that doesn't fit your hypothesis), but dishonesty with oneself and one's readers. Those who approach the Bible as a smorgasbord (pick what you want, leave the rest) are doomed to failure in any conclusions they attempt to draw from it - whether scientific, spiritual, or otherwise. If you don't trust or believe part of it, why do you trust any of it ... and how do you know which parts to trust? Ahh, but I digress.

Let's look at what the Bible actually tells us about the star and let it provide the conclusions for us.

First, we note that Matthew is the only source of information about the Christmas star. All references to it appear in chapter 2 (vss 2, 7, 9, & 10) and in reference to the visit of the Magi. From these verses we can conclude the following directly from the text:

Verse 2
saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."
  1. The Magi saw the star appear when they were in the East (some speculate that the star itself was in the east, but this makes no sense astronomically since the stars appear to move across the sky like all other heavenly bodies)
  2. The Magi attribute this particular star to Jesus Himself referring to it as "His star"
  3. From something about this star (timing, position, nature, or all these?) they have deduced that:
    • A child has been born
    • He will be King of the Jews
    • He is worthy of their worship (discussed in my last post in more detail)
  4. Herod, the current king, should knows nothing about Him
  5. Neither Herod, nor the other Jewish leadership has noticed or understands the meaning of the star

Verse 7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.
  1. The Magi knew exactly what time the star appeared (implying it did not exist before or, less likely, something about it changed in a single event)
  2. Both the Magi and Herod believed that the moment of the stars appearance coincided with the birth of the child.
  3. The Magi did not immediately provide information about the timing of the star's appearance. Herod had to call them back a second time (in secret) to obtain this more detailed information.

Verse 9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
  1. Upon leaving for Bethlehem the star reappears. This strongly implies that they have not seen it for some time - probably shortly after its first appearance some months ago.
  2. Note This: We are specifically told by the Holy Spirit here that this is the SAME STAR which they had seen previously. This is one of those fascinating times in the text where it's clear that the Holy Spirit has gone out of His way to let you know something important. In this case, it appears He has anticipated a lot of the silliness about trying to dismiss the star or to separate this more supernatural aspect of the story from a more "explainable" astronomical phenomenon. But no, this is the SAME STAR that now appears to them again.
  3. The star is now moving. It "went before them" leading them toward Bethlehem and the location of Jesus.
  4. Note this is not the first time a supernatural phenomenon from God has lead His faithful on a journey. God did this for 40 years with the Israelites coming out of Egypt and through the wilderness.
  5. When they arrive, it comes to rest and "stands" over the place where Jesus is.
  6. As discussed in a previous post, we note that the location is no longer a stable, but a "house", and Jesus is referred to as a "young Child", rather than an infant or baby.

Verse 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy
  1. In the typically understated language of the Scriptures, the phrase "rejoiced with exceedingly great joy" is a rather amazing statement. It's hard to overestimate their reaction here. We need to have the picture of some really, REALLY excited people here over what they are witnessing!
  2. Remember that these are professional astronomers and that they have even seen this specific "star" before. But their reaction here clearly indicates that the start is doing something:
    New - Their reaction indicates they have not witnessed this behavior before
    Unnatural - As professional astronomers, they would have have had this reaction to a natural phenomenon
    Understandable - They interpret it's intention to lead them and they choose to follow it
    Intelligent -
    • It responds directly to their need as they leave Herod's palace with no clue where to find Jesus other than the city in which He was born many months ago.
    • It meets them where they are and and draws their attention to itself
    • It leads them from their current location directly to Jesus several miles away.
    • It stops ("comes to rest") when its mission is completed
    Knowledgeable - It knows their need, it knows their current location, it knows Jesus location, and it knows how to lead them there
    Meaningful - It has accomplished bringing the Magi into the presence of Jesus so that they may worship Him and present their gifts. This is not only meaningful to the Magi themselves, but to us as well since it was considered important enough to be included in the Scripture by the Holy Spirit
By this time, I expect you're on to me. This second appearance of the star - the one that leads the Magi directly to the young Jesus in their moment of need - really steals the show. And it leaves no doubt whatsoever that we're not dealing with any natural phenomenon. No supernova, comet, or planetary conjunction could do what this star did for the Magi. It demonstrates awareness of their situation and need, and graciously provides for it leading them to Jesus. Jesus' own words many years later would seem to illuminate (pardon the pun) the source of this miracle, "Jesus therefore answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day."(10) Whether the star was actually an angel, the Holy Spirit Himself, or something altogether unique, it was clearly a supernatural phenomenon and we are intended to understand it as such, not attempt to rationalize it away with naturalistic explanations. God has a long history of leading those who seek Him in the right direction when they need it most. It's also interesting to note that, up until Herod pushed them out the door with instructions to "go and find the child", the Magi probably did not even realize that they would need supernatural help in their quest. Until their arrival, they had assumed that Herod and the Jews would already be aware of their new King's birth and His location. It must have been stunning to realize that they, outsiders and even aliens to the land, were the only ones who knew anything about this ultimately important event. To be essentially pushed out the door with no more clue than the name of a city must have left them surprised and perhaps hopeless of finding Him. Perhaps it was at that very moment, their recognition of their own inability to find what they were searching for, did God step in to meet their need in a supernatural way.
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (11)

(10) John 6:43-44
(11) Matthew 7:7-8
For a more in-depth study, see my full study in the file titled "The Christmas Story" at:

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