A couple of nights ago, many of us had the opportunity to see something we have never seen before and will never see again in our lifetimes - the so-called Star of Bethlehem. This is, as best as science can pin it, the bright and glorious star that arose over Bethlehem and guided the wise men to the baby Jesus.
One of the things I've always wondered about this star, every time I have read the story, was how the wise men knew to follow this star and how this star seemed to 'come to settle over the place' where Jesus lay His head. I've always been a bit of a star buff and have always enjoyed looking up at the night sky and feeling my smallness, but one of the things I know from doing this my whole life is that all stars move. Usually in a similar direction. And so, I've wondered about this star and how it came to be so dramatically different than all the others, to a point where the wise men knew to follow.
Watching the phenomenon this year, I finally get it. For weeks, the sky has shown us these two stars - these two bodies - getting closer and closer together. And now, on the other side of their conjunction, the sky shows us these two stars getting further and further apart. You can still see them, even tonight, if you go and look outside, but they won't be as close a tandem as they were a few nights ago.
Which explains, to me, how the wise men knew to follow it. They watched it come together. Night after night, they kept their eyes open and saw the movement of one star toward another. So when we hear about the Star of Bethlehem "coming to settle over the place," we're talking about a bunch of astrologers watching these two bodies come into conjunction. At the place at which they were closest, that was the place at which they would find Jesus.
Now, science thinks that since it can explain this, since it can show us the trajectories and cycles of Jupiter and Saturn, it's no such thing as a miracle or as a sign from God. It's just, they say, coincidence. Probably. It just happened to happen. And then, they'll point out that the wise men were actually late in coming to see Jesus, that they never made it to the manger but found Him somewhere else when He was perhaps as old as two.
But does that really make it any less of a miracle? Does it make it any less beautiful?
Because what it says to me is that when God sent His Son to earth as a swaddled baby boy, the universe came to rest in itself. The planets aligned and settled into a single brightness. All of the movement of all of creation, what was breathed from the very first - from in the beginning - found its way to itself. And it was this moment, this precise moment, that it all came to settle...over a place where Jesus lay.
That's too beautiful to say that God didn't plan it that way. It's too breathtaking to just write it off as happenstance. I mean, that's part of the story of Christmas, isn't it? Not just that Jesus came to live among us as Immanuel, but that all of creation, in that moment, fell in line and came into its rest and settled into a singular brightness. That's Christmas. That is exactly Christmas.
It was cool to walk out on my back deck and witness the star the led the wise men to Jesus. It was cool to see these two bodies come together and settle over a place, over one place. And it just reminds me of how near Jesus really is. I don't know it works this way, but somehow, I look up into the sky and see the conjunction of two bodies that are billions of light years apart, and I know that God is with me.