I don’t know much about astronomy. I can find the big and little dippers, and Orion in a clear night sky, but that’s about it. Beyond that, I don’t much know what I’m looking at aside from a dark blanket of twinkling beauty.
This morning, I found myself wanting to read through the Christmas story again. I’ve read the story a lot over the years, but today for some reason something really stood out to me in the story in Matthew more than ever before.
In Chapter 2, the magi appear to King Herod and ask if he knows “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” It then goes on to say that “Herod was troubled about this”…and he then basically goes on a rampage to find the baby Jesus and goes so far as to exterminate all of the baby boys in and around Bethlehem. Something was really bothering this guy.
I’ve always thought that Herod was troubled just by the idea of being replaced as king. How many other times I wonder did anyone ever come to him with a conjecture about the arrival of the Messiah? How many times in his reign did he keep an eye on a general in his army who was especially hard-core or could pose a threat some day to his throne? How many times were there people in his lands that he had to take out because they may have been getting too powerful? I mean, if you’re gonna protect your throne to the degree that you wipe out all infants in an entire region…I’m guessing that your pattern of self-protection didn’t just begin with a couple of fancy kings suggesting the possibility of a “new” king to you. Possibilities can be threatening…but there was something bigger than just a potential threat going on with this baby.
But then this morning I noticed that in verse 7, Herod takes great pains to find out more about what was going on with this star…the star of the King. “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” And I find myself wondering….
What was so special about this star that they knew it was the one prophesied from way back in the Old Testament?
What was it that made this star so evidentially the one of the Messiah?
Why was it that Herod went to great effort to find out more about this star?
And I wanted to find out more about this star too. So I’ve done some digging around and found the following interesting astronomical information. This star WAS way bigger and brighter than normal. And there are some thoughts as to what actually occurred to create such a bright and beautifully threatening twinkle in the sky.
Some scholars believe that what may have happened is called a “greatest conjunction,” and I found some interesting information about it that I thought I’d share with you.
A Greatest conjunction is a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn at or near their opposition to the Sun. In this scenario, Jupiter and Saturn will occupy the same position in right ascension on three separate occasions over a period of a few months. The “Star of Bethlehem” is theorized to be a greatest conjunction.
I didn’t know what planets “in opposition” meant, so I looked that up too. (Remember, I’m just a 3 constellation kind of gal.)
A planet is said to be “in opposition” when it is in opposition to the Sun, as seen from the Earth. When a planet is like this,
- it is visible almost all night, rising around sunset, culminating around midnight and setting around sunrise;
- at this point of its orbit it is roughlyclosest to the Earth, making it appear bigger and brighter.
- the half of the planet visible from Earth is then completely illuminated (“full planet”)
- the opposition effect increases the reflected light from bodies with unobscured rough surfaces.
Interesting huh? I love that God is THAT creative. And I love that it’s called “Greatest” conjunction. The very best coming-together of even the heavens. That all of heaven aligned perfectly to point with great light down to the baby King lying in a feed trough in a little redneck town called Bethlehem. The stars and the planets aligned….and a shaky king on a usurped throne knew it…and was really afraid.
Luke 2:10, But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
The stars aligned, the heavens rejoiced, and love came down.