This “beautiful Star of Bethlehem” has captured the hearts and imaginations of people for hundreds and hundreds of years. Poets, artists, and musicians have explored the mystery of this object—the holy light guiding the enigmatic magi to the Christ child. Actual historians and astronomers—honest to goodness scientists–pour over data and debate what exactly the star was. At the 2014 colloquium on: “The Star of Bethlehem: Historical and Astrological Perspectives” about twenty participants discussed a hot new theory proposed by Michael Molnar. It has to do with astrology and astronomy and ancient coins and I don’t really understand it but he wrote a 208-page book about it, if you’re interested.
Yet despite the prominence of the star in our imaginations, in reality the star must not have been that prominent. If everyone had noticed this particular star, then Jesus would have gotten more than those three presents. People would have been flocking from every direction to pay homage to the Christ child. But only the magi came. Three of them. Or maybe two. Or maybe a dozen. We don’t know how many, but we do know it was a limited number. A few people who noticed and followed this astronomical anomaly.
Even the scribes and scholars in Jerusalem who should have been paying attention to the signs failed to notice this particular star. So why did the magi see it?
While we don’t know exactly who the magi were, we can assume that they had some training in looking at the stars; that they studied the heavens; that they had charts and scopes. They must have been paying attention to the sky, keeping notes for months, for years, before they saw this new shining light.
This, of course, does not mean we should all be astronomers so that we can recognize the signs God writes in the stars. One of the beautiful things about scripture is that it tells us of many ways that God speaks to people; many ways that God has led people to Jesus.
We have Mary who’s just minding her own business when the angel shows up and the Holy Spirit places Jesus in her womb. We have the shepherds who are doing their not very glamorous jobs, hanging out in the fields watching their sheep, when the angels show up and tell them about Jesus. We have the disciples doing their not glamorous job of fishing when Jesus walks along and says, “Hey guys. Drop your nets. Follow me.” We have Zachaeus who wants to see Jesus so he climbs up into the tree. We have the woman who has been bleeding for years and in desperation makes her way through the crowd and reaches out to grab the hem of Jesus’ robe.
An angel. A job. A stranger’s voice. A new perspective. A deep need. There are so many things that, if we pay attention, if we step out in faith and follow, can lead us closer to Jesus. There are so many stars.