This weekend my sermon is titled “The Fourth Wise Man” and as I was working on it, I realized I was trying to cram 60 minutes of material into a 40-minute sermon.🙂 So I decided to cut out a portion of it and post it in this blog instead. Here goes…
There are some fascinating details in the biblical account of the Christmas story that are often overlooked. Here’s what the Bible says:
After [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. – Matthew 2:9-10
Those verses contain details I always wondered about when I heard the Christmas story at St. Ronald’s Catholic Church as a kid. After all, how could a star that is a million miles up in space MOVE around in the sky and then STOP over a house? And how would the wise men know which house it stopped over if it was that far up in space?
Those details never made sense to me.
And then I did some research.
Biblical scholars have had a field day trying to figure out what this star was. And in this blog I wanted to share the top two theories I came across…
One widely discussed possibility is a very rare astronomical event that took place on May 27 of 7 B.C. On that date, Jupiter, Saturn, and the constellation of Pisces all aligned. This theory states that the star in the Christmas story was these three things converging.
And what makes this significant is what each of those things represents:
- Jupiter was seen as the primary god in Babylonian astrology
- Saturn was a planet associated with the Jews
- The Pisces constellation represented Palestine
So according to this theory, these three coming together told the Magi “who, what and where.” Jupiter told them the “who” — a King was born. Saturn told them the “what” — it involved the nation of the King. And the Pisces constellation told them the “where” — it explained where they were to look for him.
And maybe God did something supernatural that you often see in movies that depict this event: that light from the convergence of these 3 things came down from space in a tight beam and focused on the manger. And if God created all things, then He could take a natural event like the convergence of Jupiter, Saturn, and the constellation of Pisces and do something supernatural with the light it emitted, couldn’t He?
So that’s one theory of what the Christmas Star was. And I think it’s a pretty cool one.
Here’s another theory . . . and this one suggests the star was NOT really a star at all.
We have a manger scene we put up in our front yard just before Thanksgiving. Kellie inherited it from her grandparents. It has a star that’s on an 8-foot pole and we put the star right over the wooden manger. Then we cover the star with Christmas lights and rows of streaming lights so everyone can see it up and down our street.
While we don’t have plastic Magi figurines to go along with our manger scene, everyone on our block could find baby Jesus if they used our Christmas Star as their guide. Simply look for the lit up star and then look down about 8 feet!🙂 There’s baby Jesus being held by His mommy, the Virgin Mary! Nice and simple.
But the star in the biblical account isn’t 8 feet up in the air, because stars are millions of miles up in space. So how were the Magi led by this star??? Here is the theory…
The Christmas Star was not really a star at all, but it was actually an angel. That might sound weird at first, but there is precedent for it in the Bible. In the Scriptures, angels are sometimes referred to as stars. For example: The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches… (Revelation 1:20)
Some scholars think this is what was going in the Christmas Story. This would explain why this “star” could lead the Magi… and how it could stop over a house.
According to this theory, The Christmas “Star” (Angel) wasn’t a million miles up in space. It was probably just a little higher than the star we have on our pole for our manger scene.
In fact, there is some early church tradition that agrees with this theory. Here is a quote from an early church writing called The Gospel of the Infancy. I need to stress this book is not part of the Bible, but it is part of early church tradition which carries some weight.
This writing is all about the birth of Jesus, just like chapter 2 of the gospel of Matthew. But this ancient text contains additional details:
In the same hour there appeared to them an angel in the form of that star which had before guided them in their journey, and they went away, following the guidance of its light, until they arrived in their own country. – Gospel of the Infancy (chap. 7)
In commenting about this non-Biblical source, one Christian scholar said: “This, I believe, only makes explicit what is implicit in Matthew, namely, that the guiding star was a guiding angel.”
Again, we don’t know what the Christmas Star was for sure. But both of those are pretty fascinating theories.
***This Sunday kicks off a new series at our church. It’s called “The Rest of the (Christmas) Story.” We’ll be look at passages that are part of the Christmas narrative in the Bible that contain profound theological truths but never get preached on. My sermon this Sunday is called The Fourth Wise Man. Here is a “sneak preview”: claymation videos of the “three wise men” and Christmas Carols about the “three kings” have led us to picture something far from what the Bible actually teaches. After all, if it was just 3 harmless elderly men riding on camels carrying gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh… why does the gospel of Matthew say that King Herod and all of Jerusalem were afraid of them? (see Matt. 2:3). That verse tells us that there is a lot more to the story than we think! Please join us on December 4th at 10:30am at The Eastside Vineyard Church. More info at tevchurch.org***