Minister’s Reflection – Dec. 12/19
Rev. Dave Crawford
“A Unusual Star”
“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
- Matthew 2:1-2
In Cochrane some nights the sky is so clear, the stars and planets so bright, so vivid, one is simply awed by the great expanse of brightness, and perhaps by a sense of one’s own smallness. Likely all those elements are multiplied in the Crossfield area with its unfiltered views of the universe’s magnificence, at least as much of it as the human eye, and mind, can comprehend. Do you ever take the time to get outside on a cold, clear winter night and look up, in the silence, the wonder, at all those stars?
What is a star? I found this description at skyand telescope.com: “a star is a luminous ball of gas, mostly hydrogen and helium, held together by its own gravity. Nuclear fusion reactions inits core support the star against gravity and produce photons and heat, as well as small amounts of the heavier elements… Stars are born as clumps within gigantic gas clouds that collapse in on themselves. The cloud’s material heats up as it falls inward under the force of its own gravity. When the gas reaches about 18 million degrees F, hydrogen nuclei begin to fuse into helium nuclei, and the star is born. Energy from nuclear fusion radiates outward from the center of the burgeoning star, and gradually halt the gas cloud’s collapse.”
Of course our Sun is one such star. It’s 147 million kilometres from earth, and light from the Sun takes about 8 minutes to travel here to Earth, which gives us an idea, somewhat, of the awesomeness of both the speed of light and the massive distances in our universe. Another star is referred to in Matthew’s account, “his star” it says, meaning the baby’s star, the “king of the Jews’” star, moving, as legend has it, unusually, distinctly, in the ancient Near Eastern sky, leading wise men from the East (note it doesn’t say “three”), to Jerusalem, then onto Bethlehem, to pay homage, to present gifts, with great joy!
Yet what about that unusual star, seemingly much closer than the Sun, moving with intent, moving mysteriously, divinely? Discussion and debate around the science of the Bible’s accounts is nothing new. I learned of it in the late 80’s at seminary, likely you too have heard the competing claims, the experts discussing astronomical probabilities and possibilities. There is some evidence, for example, accepted by some scholars, that an ancient comet may have coincidentally been visible in and around Judea sometime between the years 5 BCE – 3 CE, for ancient pre-scientific minds appearing to be a star. Other scholars reject the evidence, suggesting therefore that the miraculous claims connected to Jesus’ birth are null and void, legend. Perhaps both “sides” are missing the point, however.
From the beginning of Christianity, as small communities of believers gathered together in tiny house churches, the simple confession of faith “Jesus is Lord” was at the core of their spiritual community. That God had chosen to perform actions outside of everyday experience and natural laws, in and through the person of Jesus, He who was/is more than simply a person, was central to their early belief system, so much so that experiencing violent persecution for their faith, for the sake of Christ Jesus, was often embraced, not avoided. That same faith perspective – Jesus is Lord – accompanied early Christian approaches to the Nativity. Arguably it still does today. A detailed, scientifically endorsed probability of a comet being mistaken for a unique star in the ancient sky isn’t what the story is about, but instead the faith proclamation that God, in Jesus, acted unusually, unexpectedly, decisively, for the sake of humankind, and in the name of Divine Love.
In our time, in this particular era for the world, there are many disturbing developments and trends, as there are also some hopeful, inspiring events and people. However, much in life these days is uncertain, in flux, up in the air, riddled, for some, with anxiety and distress. At times it may seem that the darker side of human nature is gaining the upper hand. Not so, says Advent and Christmas! Not so, says the story we celebrate even as we sometimes question! Not so, declares the star, His star, God’s star sent to guide Magi and all of humankind in the direction of amazing grace, hope and peace!
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
– John 1:5