Friday, December 3, 2010

star of wonder.

Where does Santa summer?
            I’m pretty certain that he would summer in the most beautiful place in the world in order to gain inspiration for all the new toys each year. Therefore, he must summer in the Swiss Alps, specifically the Berner Oberland.

            “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
            -based on Isaiah 40:5

            Stars are made of many materials: tinfoil stars, paper stars, jewelry stars, plastic stars, musical stars, battery-operated stars, and kid-colored crayon stars. In modern times, the appearance of Christmas stars marks the beginning of a wild buying season. Two thousand years ago, the Christmas star led wise men to look for Jesus.
            The story of the Bethlehem star is told only in the gospel of Matthew (chapter 2, verses 1-12), In that record there are lots of clues about the star and its meaning. Those clues have fascinated astronomers, Bibles scholars, and ordinary people for almost as long as the story has been told.
            Matthew tells us that wise men from the East had seen an unusual star that they identified with a newborn “King of the Jews.” They called it “his star.” This king was so important that the magi planned a long, hard, uncertain journey to find Him. They were not guided by the star to Bethlehem but went, instead, to Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews, looking for the new king.
            Herod (who was the official king of the Jews) and his people were disturbed to hear the wise men’s story. Their confusion suggests that they might not have seen the star themselves – that it was only noticed by people like Magi whose job it was to study stars. Herod didn’t like the idea of another king in his kingdom, and he ordered the Jewish priests to tell him where he could find this new king. The priests told King Herod and the Magi about an Old Testament prediction that a ruler would be born in Bethlehem. And so the Magi traveled about five miles south of Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where they found Jesus. Matthew tells us that as they set out again, they were “overjoyed” to see the star. It sounds almost as though the star had disappeared and then appeared to them again for the last few miles of their journey.
            Matthew wrote about the star in a matter-of-fact way until the end of the story when he said that, as the Magi left Jerusalem, the star “went ahead of them” and “stopped over the place where the child was.” No ordinary star or planet could lead like that – like a guide with a flashlight directing a group through a dark forest. For this reason, many people believe the star was a miracle star. Certainly God could have used a supernatural phenomenon to guide the Magi. Others have thought that the star’s appearance was a natural rather than a supernatural event – that God used ordinary circumstances to work His will.
            One of the oldest and most popular of the natural explanations for the star suggests that it was not a star at all, but a close meeting of two planets as they traveled in their regular orbits. Astronomers call that a “conjunction.” Around the time that Jesus was born, there was a very rare triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (three meetings in about a year’s time). The triple meeting fits many of the clues given in Matthew’s gospel. For example, the series of three conjunctions could explain why the wise men seemed to have first seen the star in their homeland, then along the way, and then again after they left Jerusalem.
            What did those travelers from the East really see? Was the star’s appearance a special miracle, or was it a comet, supernova, star giant, fireball, group of planets, or something else? All of the theories fit part of the clues, some better, some worse. But no theory fits them all.
            In spite of all the uncertainty about what the star was, it is very certain what the star meant. It was something God used to bring wealthy, powerful, highly educated men to meet a baby in Bethlehem. Whatever the Magi saw in the sky filled them with a great longing to find the King of kings. From the first time that they saw His sign, they worked and waited with joy and hope for the fulfillment of their search. In that time, the star – His star, the glory of the Lord – was revealed to just a few wise men. That star marked the advent of the birth of Jesus.
            There is another advent, though, another coming. The Bible says that Jesus will come again a second time. The Second Advent won’t be marked with a star seen by just a few people. When Jesus comes again, the whole sky will be filled with His glory, and all of humanity will see it together.
            For now we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. All of creation, and we ourselves, groan inside, longing for our salvation. It is coming.
            This is our hope. After all, “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
            -The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader by Donna W. Payne and Fran Lenzo


  1. I'm with you. I think he would surely summer in Gimmelwald, not that far from his home at the North Pole...probably in Hotel Mittaghorn. That way it would just be a short, pleasant walk up the trail to that delightful bench on the way to Murren where he could rest awhile from his work and contemplate the beauty and majesty of the One he does it all for anyway!

  2. I have a special feeling for and love of the night sky, the stars and the moon. So your posting today is especially meaningful to me.I often step outside after supper into the col, dark air of the night and look up at the glorious creation above me~ the stars, scattered in such a beautiful spangle/tangle across the sky always make me want to fall down and worship the magnificent God who created this vast visual delight. I'm sure that St. Nicholas lives somewhere in summer where he can see the stars well~ and watch them in wonder, as we do.

  3. I think both Sally's are on the right track, but I think he may also make little excursions to Hallstat, Gigondas, Roussillon, and Cinque Terra.

  4. Great thoughts on stars and advent! (Though really this belongs in your Epiphany blog, yes?)

    Several years ago I wrote a musical based on the Vision of Scipio, that began, "After midnight, before the dawn / you can see a million miles / till the sky comes on." In it, I postulated that in the heavenly realms it was always night: sunshine is local; daytime's just a flashlight. But where the angels reside it's one constant glittering night.

  5. I love that, Barry! And yes, I suppose this post is more along the lines of an Epiphany blog.

  6. Okay, I'm thinking that Santa summers in Rothenburg, people. Christmas nation.