After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Matthew 2:9-10
The star in the Christmas story has become iconic, appearing in various forms on the tops of our trees and on numerous cards. Many different theories have been offered about the star that the Magi were following, so here is your very short guide to the star of Bethlehem.
Some suggest that the star was a supernatural apparition, or perhaps even an angel, a theory which is predominantly based on the unusual movement of the star described in Matthew 2:9. However, Matthew doesn’t indicate to us anything of the supernatural about it; he doesn’t say for instance that it was ‘sent’ in the way the angels were and he definitely calls it something different. This leaves a few natural explanations:
- It could have been a comet, which would have been visible ‘wandering’ across the night’s sky for weeks or even months. People in Roman times tended to fear comets as they were thought to indicate a coming disaster, often the death of the king, which might explain why Herod was so disturbed about the news.
- It could have been a nova or supernova which suddenly appears in the sky as if by magic and slowly fades to obscurity over a few weeks or months. This would fit with the idea of a single bright star in the sky.
- It could alternatively have been a planetary conjunction. There was a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 7BC which would have suggested to Babylonian astrologers the idea of a king in ‘the Westland’, their name for Palestine.
Whatever the explanation, the star in the Christmas story reminds me of the all-powerful nature of God who is the creator and controller of all things, even beyond our own planet. As he was ensuring that each star was accounted for at the beginning of creation (Genesis 1:16), he must also have been planning them so that, at exactly the right time, one would appear to mark His greatest work of all, the sending of His Son. At the end of a long journey it says that the Magi were not just a little happy to see this star come to rest at the place of Christ’s birth. They rejoiced exceedingly. However awesome the star was, it was but a sign of something even more amazing.
Lord, we worship you because you are a powerful God who brings out each and every star in the sky, calling them all by name, ensuring that not one is missing (Isaiah 40:26). Every time we look at the stars in the sky may we be reminded of your great works, and, like the wise men, may we be filled with great joy. Amen.