Growing Up Nerdy
For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with the mysteries of outer space. I can recall spending hours in the library looking up information about how stars were born, how galaxies were formed, the current science on black holes – anything I could get my hands on. I couldn’t get enough. I would spend hours reading through my grandparent’s old National Geographic Magazines from the 1960s pre-moon landing. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know if there were other planets out there beyond our solar system. I wanted to know how far away the nearest star was and how close we were to interstellar travel.
We are all made of stars
Stars have always held an important place within humanity. Early on in human history sailors learned to use the stars to navigate the seas. Some of our most famous myths are tied to the constellations. Modern science tells us that we are actually comprised of many of the same elements as the stars themselves. They tell us that as stars die out they explode into the universe to create new stars, new planets, and new people. We are literally made of stars. It brings new meaning to the idea that the universe is all part of a collective whole.
The star over the manger
As a Christian, the image of the star also holds a special meaning. As we get closer to Christmas it is nearly impossible to avoid the image of the star shining down on the manger. We see it on Christmas cards, nativity scenes, and at the top of Christmas trees. Most of us have probably at one point heard the Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are” where it talks about the star that guides the wise men to the manger containing the baby Jesus.
Magi or Astrologer?
The image of a star over the manger is a reference to the birth story in the Gospel of Matthew. Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2 NASB). In Matthew’s account, there is a bright star that leads the wise men to the manger.
Interestingly, Matthew’s account has a lot in common with the belief at the time that stars had some sort of divine nature. In fact, in the months after Julius Cesar’s death, a comet was observed in the sky and was thought to be his soul becoming deified. At this stage in history, this was a commonly held belief – the idea that the stars (and planets) were somehow linked to individuals. The reference in Matthew to the “magi” or “wise men” or “kings” comes from a Greek word that is also translated as “astrologer.” In fact, there are several translations in print that reference the men as “astrologers” rather than the more commonly know “wise men” or “kings.” Astrology at the time was a highly respected field of science. This would have also made a lot o sense as the men traveled from the east following a star they took to be a great sign. In this case, a sign of the birth of the Messiah – the one would would help usher in the Kingdom of God.
The Jesus Bat-Signal
Scholars have debated the nature of the star itself. Was it truly a star or were people witnessing a planet or a comet? Was there a star at all since it’s only referenced in the Gospel of Matthew and not in the other three gospels? We can certainly continue the debate and would likely be left with unsatisfactory answers. There is simply no way to know for certain. However, what we can make note of is the way in which God chose to announce His entrance into His own creation. A star, something visible to all people regardless of social status, class, or geography. A sign for ALL people. Long before the advancement of technology and the construction of great neon cities that drown out the light from the sky – all people would have witnessed the same bright star. A bright, bold announcement proclaiming the beginning of a great and wonderful revolution – the collision of heaven and earth.
Have Hope – God in all things
When I reflect on the birth narrative I often think of the role of the star. God chooses to enter into His own creation by way of a bright star cutting through infinite darkness. It’s as if we’re being told that God Himself is bringing light to the darkness that each and every one of us experiences here on Earth. Or to take it one step further, just as everything in the universe is made of the same materials – God’s love permeates all things. There is nowhere that we can go where God isn’t present. Or more simply put, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23). I take great comfort in knowing that just as the universe is all one – that God is with us, beside us, and within each and every one of us at all times and in all places. We are never alone.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!