So, what are some current, night sky events that are pointing to dramatic, apocalyptic, or prophetic world calamities that should evoke panic and fear? Well, there are a few comets floating around, but none seem to be signaling that war is imminent. Hmmm, no lunar or solar eclipses right now, signaling the end of the world. Ah, I have it! The conjunction of Venus and Jupiter at the end of June must be pointing to the second coming of Jesus Christ!! Or… maybe its just a really cool night sky event that we should get out and enjoy as part of our summer observing!
Much ink has been spilled over how the ancients understood the night sky. Similar to my playful jab of commingling night sky events in June with the coming of Jesus, there is, unfortunately, a tendency to paint the ancients as naive and unintelligent fear mongers. In defense of modern science, did the ancients have a worldview that today’s science can easily reject? Absolutely! Nevertheless, the ancients did have the wisdom to do something that seems to be waining in our modern times: look up, wonder at creation, and ask the questions “Who am I and where do I fit in this beautiful creation?” If the ancients had the tools and scientific method we have today, there is no doubt in my mind that they would have had a dramatically different view of the heavens, just as we would have a very different view of the heavens if we were limited to the tools available to the ancient world. In short, every generation of human history has done the best that it could with the tools available to them. I can’t wait to see what jabs people 400 years from now will make at us about our view of the meaning of creation!
With this as a backdrop, as I mentioned earlier, there is a wonderful, naked eye event happening in the night sky that all of us can enjoy, night after night, from now until the end of June: The conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. Here is a video from NASA explaining this event.
The reason I share this video with a playful jab at the ancients is that modern Biblical scholars have speculated that a planet conjunction might have been the “star” mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew at the time of Christ’s birth. Do we know, definitely, that the star was a conjunction of planets? No, we don’t. There are many explanations from the natural world that are good candidates for the star of Bethlehem. However, we also need to avoid the trap of thinking the star of Bethlehem MUST be defined by a natural event. Could the star of Bethlehem have been a supernatural event that we will never see again in the night sky? Perhaps. Could the star of Bethlehem have a metaphorical twist, speaking more about a people who “walk in darkness” and have seen “the light” of Christ, echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah? This makes a lot of sense too. For a good summary of some of the theories on the Star of Bethlehem, here is Brother Guy.
So, in light of all of this information, should we break out our Christmas trees and get ready for a Christmas in June? Well, no, unless you really want to get your Christmas shopping out of the way early this year. Nevertheless, can we use events such as this summer conjunction to remind us of the most pivotal event in human history? Absolutely! Can we gaze in wonder, night after night, and be reminded of God’s love for us, sending his only begotten Son into the world for our salvation? Most definitely! And even though we should be weary about assigning Biblical prophecy to this night sky event, can we look to the signs and symbols of our times and be concerned about war, violence, and terror? Unfortunately, yes… we can find those symbols all around us without looking up to the heaven.
Spiritual exercise: this month, allow your heart a “mini-Christmas” as we watch this beautiful conjunction, but let us also sober our hearts, praying and working toward ending violence and injustice in our world. As we behold the beauty of the heavens and are reminding of God’s love for us, let us extend that love to a world that is in desperate need of discovering God’s image and likeness in one another. And may we enjoy a restful June, experiencing the rejuvenating balm that is summer!