Christians, for roughly 2,000 years, have been celebrating, in one way or another, the birth of our Lord, and in the process Christmas has taken on so much patina that we no longer see the real event, but Christmas is not just a fanciful story. It really happened to real people in a real place at a real time…
From the most recent research, it looks like 2,013 years ago on this evening – the 24th of December – a group of astronomers, probably from Babylon and probably Jewish, spent the night in Jerusalem. They had traveled for months. No doubt they climbed up on the roof of their hotel that night to double-check the star – the planet Jupiter — that had been guiding them – yes it had turned south and appeared to be stopped.
The next day they rode toward it, five miles south to Bethlehem, in search of a toddler who had very likely been born the previous June. They believed this toddler to be descended from David and destined to sit on Israel’s throne. He would be called The Lion of Judah and on December 25th they brought Him gold, frankincense and myrrh (Nicodemus would later bring myrrh to wrap in Jesus’ shroud.). *
You see, in the fall of 3 B.C. they had seen Jupiter, the King Planet, zipping past Regulus, the King Star, three times, forming a crown or halo over it. This happened in the constellation of Leo, the Lion, and following right behind came Virgo with the new moon at her feet. Probably this is about the time Gabriel had his chat with Mary.
The following June as these proto-scientists had watched the night sky from one of the towers of Babylon they witnessed an astounding event – an alignment of two celestial bodies, the planet Venus and the planet Jupiter. They stacked atop each other like a figure eight and created the biggest, brightest star ever seen. These guys were better scholars than almost anyone in Judea – they knew what the star meant; their journey had begun.
The star meant that a baby had been born, that Joseph and Mary had arrived in Bethlehem after their arduous trip from Nazareth. Imagine sitting on a donkey for days, perhaps weeks, when you’re 9 months pregnant. Imagine giving birth to your first child in a cave with no one but a young fiancé to help. Imagine going through all that at age 14.
It would have been during that time the shepherds were out tending their flocks – quite likely the flocks used for sacrifice in the Temple – were terrified by a UFO sighting – thousands of angels singing ‘great tidings.’ They calmed the shepherds down and sent them off to find a baby ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” The swaddling clothes were to be a “sign’ to them.
Babies in mangers were unusual, but babies in swaddling cloths weren’t. It was the custom to wrap babies in a long strip of cloth, like the Native American papoose. It was also the custom to wrap corpses in “swaddling cloths” – in fact it was in such cloths that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped the body of Jesus after he was taken down from the cross.
The sign was not to help the shepherds find the baby, but to remind them that He had come to die – to establish that from the beginning; He had come to die. One wonders how many of those shepherds remembered that when Jesus began teaching thirty years later. Did they get caught up in the political excitement, hoping Jesus would save them from the Romans? Or did they remember the message of the swaddling cloths?
We don’t know, but we do know that on the afternoon of April 3rd, 33 A. D. (the most likely date), Jesus, instead of sitting on a throne, was hanging on the cross, doing a different kind of saving than what the Jewish people wanted. As He hung there, absorbing our sins, Virgo was again rising in the east and the moon was again at her feet, but this time it was a full moon and it was in total eclipse – it was a blood moon (Larson).
We can tell from the great clockwork of the stars that God had planned this death from long before the birth, had planned our salvation long before we even needed it, had painted the plan in the stars way back at creation. “’Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw… that it was good,” (Genesis 1: 3). Let us celebrate that light this season.
* My information re the Star comes from Rick Larson’s video The Bethlehem Star available at http://www.bethlehemstar.net..
That concludes our 8 Days to a Christ-centered Christmas series! If you missed any of the posts, you can find them all recorded here. Have a wonderful Christmas Eve!