View all Posts | September 1, 2014
Starlight: First Meditation
The Star of Bethlehem
- Why Did It Mean So Much to the Magi?
- What Does It Mean for Us?
- Conclusion: Following the Star
The Star of Bethlehem
￼The catalyst that set the Magi’s journey in motion
was the mysterious star that appeared and somehow indicated that the promised King of the Jews, the King that many prophets had predicted would bring order and justice back to the world, had been born.
What was this star? Why did it mean so much to the Magi? And what meaning does it have for us?
St. Matthew didn’t record many details about this mysterious star. As a result, theologians, scholars, and skeptics have speculated to no end over the last two thousand years about what it really was.
The various theories fall into three categories.
Some say that the whole story was just made up — these same people say the same thing about every other chapter in the life and mission of Jesus Christ. It’s a prejudiced position, which doesn’t really stand up under honest scholarly scrutiny, so we won’t waste time refuting it.
Others say that the star was a pure miracle, a brand new heavenly body that appeared and disappeared miraculously, whose sole purpose was to guide the Magi to Bethlehem.
The third group of theories posits that the star
of Bethlehem was a natural phenomenon, like a supernova, perhaps, whose appearance and timing were so extraordinary as to reveal to the Magi that the prophesied King of the Jews had been born.
The Church has not defined any dogma explaining the nature of the star. It has preferred to focus on the spiritual and theological significance of the event as a whole. As a result, speculations continue to pop up, some more convincing than others.
One recent theory belonging to an American lawyer and law professor named Frederick Larson is particularly interesting, and you can learn all about it at his website, www.bethlehemstar.com.
St. Matthew only tells us that the Magi saw the star at its rising, and that it somehow communicated to them that the promised King of the Jews, the promised Savior of the world, had been born.
Why would a star be able to alter these men’s lives so significantly? Why would God have chosen to use a star to speak to them of the Savior? To answer those questions, we need to reflect a little bit on who these Magi were.
Why Did It Mean So Much to the Magi?
St. Matthew doesn’t tell us much about the Magi either, but he tells us enough.
First of all, they were not Jews. This is perhaps the most important thing from St. Matthew’s perspective, because it verifies that Jesus really is the promised Messiah. Many biblical prophecies spoke about the Messiah attracting the presence and worship of foreign, non-Jewish people.
In fact, part of the Messiah’s mission was to extend the reach of God’s saving promise beyond his Chosen People of the Old Testament, to create a worldwide Chosen People of the New Testament — the Church. The Magi, the first non-Jewish worshippers of Jesus, began the fulfillment of that prophetic promise.
Second, St. Matthew tells us that the Magi came “from the east.” Most likely, they were royal Chaldean scientists and scholars from the ancient city of Babylon. Ancient kingdoms and empires created and maintained groups of scholars as advisors to the throne.
Five centuries before the time of Christ, when the Babylonian Empire conquered Judea, they actually brought some of the young Jewish scholars at the time to Babylon to become members of just such a team of advisors.
Among the Jews taken into custody was the young prophet Daniel, who spent the rest of his life there in court of the various rulers of the turbulent empire. Some biblical scholars actually think that Daniel introduced Jewish knowledge into the Babylonian group of scholarly advisors, and the Magi who came to Bethlehem were disciples of that ancient school.
This could explain why their hearts were filled with anticipation and longing for the promised Messiah-King of the Jews, and why they undertook such a strange journey when the mysterious star arose and revealed that he had been born.
Whatever the historic details actually were, these wise men from the east yearned so passionately for the coming of the Lord that as soon as they knew he had come, they set off to worship him.
What Does It Mean for Us?
Since the Magi’s experience is a living parable, it has a lot to tell us about our own spiritual journey. Maybe most importantly, it tells us that God wants to communicate with us, and that he knows how to speak to us, to each one of us, in a language that we can understand.
The Magi, like all scholars and scientists in the ancient world, studied the stars and the motions of the heavenly bodies with great detail; they believed these things influenced events on earth.
By arranging for a special star to rise at the time of the Incarnation, God, in his infinite mercy and his infinite wisdom, stooped down to their level to tell them about the birth of Jesus: He spoke to them in a language that they understood.
He does the same with us. He speaks to our hearts through the beauty of nature, through the providential events of our lives, through art and literature and friendship and every reality that occupies our attention. He speaks to us through the Church, which preaches God’s Word and communicates God’s grace in fresh ways in every generation.
He really wants us to find Jesus, to discover the reality of his love and his presence, and he makes star after star rise on our horizons in order to lead us closer to him.
Conclusion: Following the Star
How do we know when God is speaking to us, when he is making a star rise in our hearts?
The surest clue is that deep interior joy, that stirring of the heart, that the Magi experienced when they saw the star. St. Matthew actually describes the Magi as being “overjoyed at seeing the star.”
In the midst of our journey of faith, God touches us and guides us through the incomparable satisfaction that we taste deep in our hearts whenever we hear God calling there, whenever we catch a glimpse of the starlight of God’s love.
The Magi yearned for more meaningful contact with God, and so, seeing the star, God’s promise of and invitation to that contact, filled them with joy.
Our hearts too yearn for more meaningful contact with God, because they yearn for true, lasting happiness, and that can only be found in God — not in popularity, comfort, wealth, or achievements, but only in God.
And so, whenever we hear his voice, whenever we
see the star and feel its invitation, we also feel a deep interior joy, a yearning both sweet and sweetly painful, that inspires us to continue forward on our journey. Haven’t we all felt that before? Don’t we all want to feel it again?
Let’s take some time now to remember the stars that God has used to guide us in our Christian lives so far, to look for the star that he is giving us right now, and to ask him for the grace to always recognize and follow every star he sends us, just as the Magi did.
The following questions and Bible passages may help your meditation.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
1 What “language” does God most often use to communicate to my heart? In other words, in what form does the Magi’s star tend to appear in my life?
2 How is the Star of Bethlehem a proof of God’s love for this fallen world? How is it an indication of his love for me personally?
3 God had placed in the Magi’s hearts a yearning
to meet the Savior, and that yearning was a preparation, almost a promise for the future
event. What yearnings has God placed in my heart recently? Savor them as promises of future divine interventions.
Biblical Passages to Help Your Meditation
￼￼Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the lord shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses. Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea
shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the lord.
– Isaiah 60:1-6, NABRE
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David. Through his prophets he promised of old that he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us. He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant. This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hand of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life…
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
– Luke 1:68-79, NABRE
For now the lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; I am honored in the sight of the lord, and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
– Isaiah 49:5-6, NABRE
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian… For a child is born to us, a son
is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever. The zeal of the lord of hosts will do this.
– Isaiah 9:1-6, NABRE