The Star of Bethlehem
Was there an actual “Star” of Bethlehem or was it an apparition that God miraculous set in the skies that led three Magi (Kings or Wisemen) to the Savior of the World? Could the star actually be an unusual pattern of heavenly bodies aligned over Bethlehem? Some think it was an angel that appeared as a star. The mystery of the Christmas star has always been subject to much discussion by scholars and followers of Christ.
The Star of Bethlehem appears in Matthew 2:3-11 where we are told that there was a sign in the heavens that lead the Magi to Bethlehem after the Christ was born, bringing with them precious gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The word “Magi” in the original Greek is magus, which has its roots in Persia referring to the priests of Zoroastrianism. The Zoroastrians were famous for studying the heavenly bodies and their particular movements. They are considered practitioners of one of the oldest religions, believing in one God and having a faith that at the end of creation a Messiah would come to save all. Being skilled astronomers, they were continually searching for any abnormality in the skies that would be a sign to denote the coming of the Messiah. That’s what brought them to King Herod as they proclaimed,
Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and come to Worship.
From the Magi testimony it is clear they have identified a star in the East with which they identified the “King of the Jews.” The star brought these observant astronomers to Judea when they apparently lost the sign in the heavens and had to seek out Herod to find the exact location of Jesus. Herod had no answer and became fearful as so many in Judea followed when the chief priests let it be known that prophecy was going to fulfilled. It took twenty-seven centuries for Bethlehem, a tiny village in southern Judea, to be honored as the place that the King of all Kings would be born as stated in Micah 5:2, “Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting”
Johannes Kepler (Dec. 1571 – Nov. 1630), a renowned German astronomer, was intrigued with the Star of Bethlehem. He was an authority of the dynamic movement of astronomical bodies in space and the discover of the elliptical motion of planets. Each year, the earth moves in its constant elliptical orbit through a background of 88 constellations of trillions of stars that appear to stand still against the relative motion of the earth. Planets can actually be seen as moving luminous bodies in the heavens and are termed as wandering stars. Kepler found from his own astronomical observations in 1606 that when Mars was closely aligned with the two largest planets in the Solar System, Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Sagittarius, a “new star” appeared. He moved the clock backwards by reversing the earth’s path through time and determined that in 6 BC the same alignment took place, producing the same star effect in the constellation of Pisces. He believed that this was the Bethlehem Star that the Magi identified that led them to find the Savior of the world. Kepler’s idea still exists today as many planetarium shows incorporate his model as the Christmas Star.
Although Kepler was an amazing astronomer for his time and a God-fearing man, he was close but wrong. The “new star” he introduced as the Christmas star was actually a supernova, defined as exploding star that gives a bright appearance in the heavens. This certainly does not fit the characteristics of star that moves through the heavens like the Magi described. There also was a major problem with Kepler’s date of 6 BC, which conflicts with most historians including the great Jewish Historian Josepheus who reported that Herod’s death was in 4 BC near the Passover time and was marked by a lunar eclipse visible throughout Israel. Astronomers can trace this eclipse and agree that it occurred in 4 BC, 2 years before Kepler’s date. As we know that the Magi met with King Herod sometime after the birth of Christ, and shortly thereafter King Herod pronounced the edict to murder all the male children under 2 years of age in Bethlehem, Kepler’s 6 BC does not fit the Biblical timeline.
There have been many claims over the years that heavenly bodies somehow were arranged in a unique way that represented the famous Star of Bethlehem. The event had to be extremely unique and perhaps it never will be resolved with observable astronomical movements of these trillions of magnificent heavenly objects in the vastness of vacuous space. Perhaps finding the Christmas Star could be a distraction that takes the focus off the complete message of why God created the stars.
In Psalm 19:1-4 we read that God’s glory is pronounced everywhere and for everyone through the universal language of creation. He has named all the stars, counted them, and claims that not one is missing in Isaiah 40:26. This verse begins with “Lift up your eyes and look into the heavens.” Shouldn’t we be looking up into the heavens during this season of celebration, realizing that every star carries His glory and that Glory will come to earth as God Almighty came as a babe in manger?