The Star of Bethlehem
It’s one of the more famous and mysterious icons of the Christmas season, marking the birth of Jesus the Messiah, and the Feast of the Epiphany — the manifestation of God’s Son to the Gentiles. In case you don’t have the story memorized (according to Matthew 2:1-14):
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage."
When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
''And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.' "
Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.
A star that moves and stops. For the scientifically inclined, or for anyone with a basic understanding of stars, this phenomenon poses big problems, starting with: “How is this even possible?”
Despite the difficulties, there have been seemingly countless attempts to explain the Star. Astronomers have linked it to familiar objects or rare phenomena in their realm, such as Jupiter (moving, then appearing to stop), the alignment of planets (which can last for days) or exploding stars (visible for weeks). Some tied it to Halley’s Comet, which appeared in 12 BC, since it could be seen as both moving (over a period of time) and stationery (at any given moment). Alas, some biblical scholars of the unbelieving nature dismiss the Star as a story concocted by the author of Matthew to tie Jesus to messianic prophecy in the Old Testament. So what else could the Star of Bethlehem be?
Our knowledge of the universe—how God “does it”—is changing at phenomenal speeds. The Hubble Space Telescope allowed us to gaze deeper into space (and into the past) than ever before. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) gave us the greatest overall picture of our universe—and the understanding that even our own Milky Way Galaxy is just a particle of something immensely grand. The Fermilab Holometer will have much to say about that big question. And the Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch later this decade, will probe even deeper and closer to the point of our birth from the Big Bang, and help confirm what the faithful already know: that the universe, and each of us within it, is (as Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed) “a thought of God.”
Which brings us back to our famous and beloved Star of Bethlehem and the “What else could it be?” question. For my novel’s purpose, the universe was not merely God’s thought, but “God’s dream of us and for us, so we can dream.” Information (and His Will) could be ejected from His Heavenly realm into this Godly dream via a burst of energy—so He could be manifested in Bethlehem to the Gentiles, who were then warned in a dream not to return to Herod; and another dream, of an angel who warned Joseph.
Epiphany does not mark the end of The Greatest Story Ever Told (or Dreamt). Embedded in His Book and among His stars, the Story is still unfolding. And we’re in it. What role are you playing?