Those of you who regularly read Sacred Space Astronomy have been presented with numerous reflections on the Star of Bethlehem. The conclusion of the Advent season reawakens these reflections as Christmas draws near. For some, the Star of Bethlehem has become an obsession. Our ability to accurately follow stars has led some to turn back the astronomical clock looking for the star. Whether it be conjunctions, supernovae, or other speculations, Christmas prompts an annual question: Was the Star of Bethlehem “Real?”
On the surface, the question of the historicity of the star of Bethlehem seems simple. However, simplifying the question to merely look for an astronomical event from the past misses the point. Let’s say that someone does definitively prove that the Star of Bethlehem was an astronomical event. Great, but now what?
Though some use Scripture to argue different angles on the question of the Star of Bethlehem, there are two things we can agree the Gospel of Matthew emphasizes when mentioning the star: People from many religious traditions were aware that a child of great significance was born over 2000 years ago and that child was born in a cave in Bethlehem.
Christmas, for the Christian, is far less about an astronomical event and more about the child this star signifies. In the Torah, Prophets, and Wisdom literature of Scripture, stars are used to symbolize people. The book of Numbers speaks of a star that will advance from Jacob to be ruler (Numbers 24:17). The prophet Isaiah speaks of people who walk in darkness seeing a great light (Isaiah 9:2). Though this isn’t a direct reference to stars, it points to the interplay of light and darkness with light being the symbol of hope.
The New Testament also uses the language of stars to refer to Jesus Christ. Both the Second Letter of Peter (1:19) and Revelation (2:28, 22:16) refer to Jesus as the “morning star.” In light of this (pun intended), we begin to see that stars are less about astronomical events in the Bible and more about signifying hope and the person who embodies that hope – Jesus Christ.
The times we live in have offered plenty opportunities for people to lose hope. Whether it be the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, wars that are raging, or the economic volatility these crises have brought, there are many who are looking for a light of hope amid life’s darkness. My prayer for you as Christmas approaches this coming Sunday is that you may find love, peace, faith and hope. May God truly be the light in our darkness. May the light of Christ set us forth on a pilgrimage to encounter truth. And may your Christmas, regardless of faith tradition, be filled with peace and joy.
Gaze upon the stars this Christmas. Contemplate the night when hope was born in a cave in Bethlehem. May we all embrace the true “Star of Bethlehem” – Christ the Lord.