Browsing Amen Corner

Amen Corner - January 3, 2021

It will be another sixty years before a cosmic conjunction similar to the one witnessed on December 21 occurs. Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets, came closer together than they have for 800 years, generating a dazzling light in the night sky. This conjunction was nicknamed the “Christmas Star,” not only because it took place just before Christmas, but also because of its similarities with the Star of Bethlehem, which we hear about in today’s Gospel.

According to the Evangelist Matthew, the magi saw the star at its rising. That star preceded the magi on their journey to see the Christ child and came to rest over the place where Jesus was.

The magi were likely astrologers of a priestly class from ancient Persia, modern day Iran, interpreters of dreams who read the stars. The magi kept centuries’ worth of observations and correlations of planetary movements and celestial omens. They could interpret patterns in the cosmos that revealed the birth of a king.

The magi would have known about the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures which foretold the birth of a king of the Jews of divine destiny and may well have been watching the skies for signs of the birth that would fulfill messianic prophecies. Many say the star the magi saw was a miracle, but scientists have long suggested a link to an actual astral phenomenon. Astronomer Michael Molnar believes the star that was visible to the magi was actually a combination of rare astronomic events that would have indicated a royal birth. This series of celestial alignments, according to Molnar, prompted the magi to set out on the journey to find the child of whom prophets foretold. Matthew, writing to convince his audience that Jesus was the promised Messiah, is the only Evangelist to include the story of the magi’s visit.

Whether we believe that the Star of Bethlehem was a miracle, the result of an actual cosmic event, or that Matthew was simply using the story to make a point, we can be assured that God comes. To the brightest nights and the darkest days God comes. To remote galaxies and to our own hearts God comes. To mighty kings and humble handmaids and pagan astrologers God comes. To people centuries ago and today to us in 2021, God comes. God is here to stay. Happy Epiphany!


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