[Ancient Faith Radio; December 19, 2007]
Recently I was interviewed by a TV show, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, which appears on PBS, for a story they were doing about the Bethlehem star. And the interviewer told me that she had talked to an astronomer and another person, a Christian, who had done a lot of research into the astronomical records that were kept by the Chinese and by the Egyptians. And there are various theories—you know, a lot of people have theories about what dramatic heavenly event it could have been that would have brought constellations together, or brought comets together or something to fill the role of that star.
And you know what? I always thought, how could it have been, like, a regular star? It just doesn’t make sense. Certainly there were things like that way up in the sky, but you couldn’t follow a star. You know, a star rises in the east, it sets in the west, that would be all you knew, would be to keep going west. It couldn’t direct you to a particular town.
And then, at the bottom part of that section about the wise men, it says that the star which they’d seen in the east went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. How could a star point out a particular house and a particular child? So I never told anybody that I though that, but as much as I admired the diligence of Christians who were trying to find actual evidence for the Bethlehem star, I always thought, you know, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Well, I am vindicated! I did a little bit of research on this before the interview and I found out that’s what St. John Chrysostom says. He says this is obviously not a regular star, and he makes four points. He says for one thing, if it led the wise men from the Chaldees, or from Persia, to Israel, then it wasn’t moving east to west, like a star moves. It was more like northeast to southwest; it was more of a north-south direction. Stars don’t do that.
He says apparently the light turned on and then turned off, like, it got them to Jerusalem and then they didn’t know where they were supposed to go from Jerusalem; they had to ask directions. Then they see it again. A star can’t do that.
The star was visible by day. Again, the sun blots out every star. Nothing that was just a star could be visible by day.
And then last of all, he makes that point I made, that a star’s not close enough to earth to point out something that precisely, that it could point out a particular house.
So here’s what Chrysostom says. He says, ‘In my opinion, this star was not an ordinary one. Or rather, not a star at all, but some invisible power transformed into this appearance.’ So that it was not in fact a star but it was some creature of light, perhaps an angel that had taken on the form of just light, of just glowing.
I think something very similar must have happened when Israel was wandering in the wilderness with Moses, because the Bible says that they were led by a cloud by day and by a pillar of fire by night. It sounds sort of similar to me. It’s something that’s doing a guiding and directing and leading role. And that it was light, that it was fire. And it was something that the people could actually see and follow, rather than—you couldn’t really follow the moon, as big as the moon is, and as close to earth as it is, it can’t do that kind of fine direction.
So as I said, I felt vindicated that that was correct. Anytime, though, that you have to talk with people about the star, or anything else in the Scriptures that’s miraculous you get a lot of doubters, even among Christians. Even Christians will say, ‘Well, probably it was a comet. The shepherds were confused.’ I think that if you have already accepted the Incarnation, if you accept that God became a human being, then you’ve already done the big one. And these little things about could God make a star, and could he make the star lead and could it directly point things out? Sure. I mean, that’s easy. That’s easy. Once you’ve got the person of the God-man, Jesus Christ, fully God, fully man in the flesh, it’s sorta late to be objecting to miracles like God using some kind of light that is seen to be like a star.
And I think it’s funny how people make a separate category for Jesus, like Jesus came to earth and then he went away and now this world is completely material and God is not involved in it at all. I certainly knew plenty of people when I was in seminary that had a categorical belief that there could not be miracles. I remember the catchphrase was, ‘God will not break the rules that He has established.’ As if, He’s established rules like entropy and gravity and magnetism and all these other rules, that’s His orderliness, and He’s not going to go against His own rules. But they are God’s rules, and it’s not breaking them if He decides to suspend them or to alter them, or to do something completely marvelous and wonderful with them. That is not a contradiction of what God is able to do.
It seems to me that a lot of us live without an expectation that God is really present with us. Emmanuel, God with us. Even with the Incarnation, we tend to think of that as a historical event that’s over with now. But I think it would be better for us to recover this sense that God can create stars; He can direct stars. He can make stars do His bidding. That in every bit of human life and animal life and material life on this earth, that God is filling it and dwelling within it.
And it is not so much a miracle that He can make a star, or whatever it is that’s like a star, to make that do His bidding. What’s miraculous is that I might do His bidding. I’m a lot harder to control and direct than just an angel taking the form of a star. So His miracles keep going on all the time, and the Nativity of Christ, the Incarnation of our Lord, is not just a historic artifact that happened and it’s over with. It’s something that marks the in-breaking of God, the indwelling of God, into our earthly existence, in a way that is permanent and is lasting. If we will only yield to it, perhaps we can also be useful in leading people that need to know our Lord, in leading them to the manger.