Have you been following the Christmas Star this week? This ultra-rare conjunction of two planets has caused quite a stir! And also some hype, eh? Were you, like me, rather disappointed by reality?
Just in case you missed it … two small, bright orbs (one larger and rounder than the other) appeared almost merged above the southwest horizon as darkness fell. To be honest, it would have been easy to miss if not for all the hoop-la.
All of this attention on the night sky has drawn me into Scriptures detailing the original Christmas star. Prepare yourself for another dose of reality, my friend. Objects in rear view may be closer than they appear.
The Gospel according to Matthew (chapter 2) picks up the story of Jesus’s birth just as the star of Bethlehem appears. Scholars believe these events occurred about two years after Jesus was born. In other words, despite a million modern illustrations to the contrary, there was no bright unearthly light suspended over the humble cave-stable that first Christmas night.
The Gospel according to Luke (chapter 2) records that Jesus’s birth was largely unremarked. Only a select few were provided a clue. Shepherds on the night shift heard firsthand from the angels. Faithful old Simeon and Anna learned a few days later at the temple. Surely they shared this joyful news with all who would listen.
Even so, by God’s grace the new family enjoyed peaceful obscurity and a quiet life in Bethlehem for the first couple of years. After the census activity subsided, they would have found guest lodging available at their family home. Enter the wisemen, stage right.
These elite were scholars from the east, astronomers who diligently watched the skies. Predictions for a sovereign to arise among the Jews were known far beyond Judea. They knew a heavenly sign when they saw it! They were compelled to discern its meaning.
For months they followed the star. It was a costly journey, exchanging security and comforts of home for dangers and discomforts abroad. Finally they arrived at King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. Imagine their surprise to discover the king unaware of the wondrous sign in his midst!
Herod did not welcome their news. His jealousy was infamous, sometimes leading to murderous rage. A challenger from Bethlehem, home town of King David, could not be tolerated.
Tradition interferes here, as we often recount three wisemen bearing three gifts. In truth there were dozens, if not hundreds, in their company. Herod couldn’t pretend this was business as usual. He immediately began scheming evil for the interloper.
When Herod ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. All Jerusalem was troubled. Herod had plenty of experience in removing threats to the throne. Inexplicably, Herod was content to bide his time. Again by God’s grace, the king gave them safe passage.
Matthew records their exuberant joy in finding the luminary above the family home in Bethlehem.
.. 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:9-11
Let’s not rush past their response, my friend. Their joy-filled wonder at the star-sign quickly segued to sacred worship. They’d traveled a long distance at great cost for the privilege of honoring this One. Parcels of precious value were placed with their Sovereign. So much joy and wonder they felt, the sacrifices made and honor gave were their great pleasure.
As the Bethlehem star rose and fell it did its job well. It was a passing sign, pointing to the Savior. Wise men appreciated its importance long before they understood its meaning.
The stories they must have told! News of this new King would have spread with every footstep on their return. Oh, to be a flea on a camel in their company! Surely the Christ child was a subject of conversation every evening around the campfire. No doubt this encounter altered the trajectory of their lives. Were these to some extent the very first missionaries? I wonder.
Let us follow their example, my friends. It was never about a sign or a star as much as the good news it foretold. It is still Good News! God sent His one and only Son to live among us. At great cost, He came that we might live life to the full, abundant and eternal (John 3:16-17; John 10:10).
We should not surprised the God of all creation would use something like celestial confetti that first Christmas. As impossible as it was for the wisemen to contain their joy, this was His one and only Son! Our Heavenly Father will stop at nothing to get our attention.
Let us remain alert, dear one. Let us watch and follow, just like the wisemen. The Sign-maker is still at work! We don’t want to miss a minute of wonder on this faith-journey. Having followed closely, it will be with great joy we present ourselves to the King of Kings.