After driving all over the mountains of Jackson County, North Carolina, trying to scope out a vantage point where the Southwestern skies were not too obscured by trees and mountaintops, Sammie and I pulled back in the parking lot of the condo, in Sapphire Valley, that we were calling home for a couple of nights. The sun had set, but the sky was still very light. Looking left of where the sun had disappeared a few minutes earlier, we realized there were several gaps in the foliage. We had found a perfect spot right in front of our front door.
By the time it was dark enough, we were standing next to our car, looking at the sky, first with the naked eye, then through binoculars. We had watched Jupiter and Saturn getting closer and closer for the past several nights. Now they were practically snuggling in the dark sky. It was the shortest day of the year, and the first time when the conjunction of the two planets had occurred with such visibility in nearly 800 years.
Others from our resort came out of their units or drove up in their cars, offering an opportunity for conversation about the “Christmas Star.” We met a couple from Nashville, a couple from Charlotte - she had grown up in Kingsport - and a few others. We shared our binoculars and took pictures on our phones. What a great experience.
Was the star the magi followed to Bethlehem actually a conjunction of planets? Perhaps Jupiter and Saturn lined up with Venus to make a three planet conjunction and brighter “star” those couple of millennia ago. That was the theory I saw projected on the ceiling of the planetarium at Western Kentucky University many years ago when I was a college student.
In my opinion, there was a natural phenomenon - like a conjunction of planets or a comet or an unbelievably large meteor - that got the wisemen’s attention and prodded them toward Judea. By the time they arrived in Jerusalem, the view of the planets had separated or the comet had dimmed...so they knocked on the door of Herod’s palace. Matthew tells about the reception they received. Leaving Herod and his scholars, they continued their search, this time led by a “star” that gave better directions than a modern day GPS.
My theory is this more specific star was supernatural, a once in a lifetime or forever miracle from God - something like the fire that led the children of Israel by night through the desert. It was able to lead them to Jesus and stand still over the house where Joseph and Mary and Jesus were staying at the time. At least that’s my theory, and I’m sticking with it. That theory and a couple of bucks (or so) will get you cup of coffee at Starbucks.
Here’s what’s significant about the whole thing: whatever the star was it led those wise men a great distance on foot, horseback or camel until they found Jesus, the King of kings. They worshipped Him. They gave Him extravagant gifts. They did not go back to Herod. Their lives were surely changed forever.
We find the story of the wise men in Matthew’s Gospel. In John’s Gospel we find this story of Jesus coming into the world: “In Him (the eternal Word) was life...the LIGHTof all mankind. The light is shining in the darkness and the darkness has never been able to overtake it...the true Light was not recognized by the world...He came to His own but they didn’t recognize Him...but to those who did receive Him, He gave power to become children of God, born of God. AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELLS AMONG US.”
This whole year has been pretty dark. Seeking and finding the Light of the World, Jesus, is worth the effort.
Steve Playl, retired pastor and chaplain, columnist and college instructor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org