Several years ago I heard an advertisement on EWTN Catholic radio for a DVD about the star of Bethlehem. Because it was almost Christmas, and I happened to be looking for science material for my five children (my oldest son particularly likes astronomy) I decided to purchase it. I thought I was purchasing a documentary, but when it arrived and I watched it, I realized that I had purchased a remarkable tool for learning, evangelization, and spiritual growth and I just had to share it with anyone and everyone I knew...it's that good.
It is called the Star of Bethlehem, it is narrated by its creator, a lawyer and devout Christian named Rick Larson. You can investigate this phenomenal video by going to the website: www.bethlehemstar.net
By high school, teens begin to study sciences at a deeper and more sophisticated level than they had when they were children. The emphasis in the average high school is placed on discovering scientific patterns and theories that explain the universe in terms that man can understand and predict, making it much less a mystery. Man sometimes gets so caught up in his own insights and discoveries that he forgets just Who it was who designed these patterns and mysteries and then beneficently “set them out” for us to find, and si it becomes easy for some to explain away the magnificence of God.
During the time of Christ, men slept outside on their roofs to escape the summer heat, and because electrical streetlamps were not in existence, they were able to contemplate the beauty of the stars quite uninterrupted. Later in time, God would deign to allow man to understand the movement of the stars around the sun in orbital fashion and man would begin to see patterns of motion and constellations of stars that would travel together.
Some say there is a legend that God gave the story of the salvation of the world to Moses. As God told the story, he pointed out the constellations in the night sky, as an illustration, giving us the zodiac. The ancient Egyptian sphinx is it’s key, telling us to go through the 12 constellations in order from Virgo (depicted as the head of the animal and signifying the Virgin) to Leo ( the tail, the figure of Christ coming from the tribe of Judah) to understand the story of salvation. We are warned in scripture not to look upon the stars as determining the future, a trait that would make them like God, but to see them as a tool used by God to reveal His plan.
First, let us begin, as we usually do, by investigating what scripture has to say about the stars.
God is the creator of the stars:
Job 9:9: He is the Maker of the Bear [Ursa Major] and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
Job 38:31: Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? 32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons...
Isaiah 40:26: Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
Not only does scripture tell us that the stars were created by God, but that He made them in order to communicate with us.
Psalm 19: 1 ...The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world...
Later in history, when the apostle Paul is asked whether the Jews in Christ’s time knew that the Messiah had come, he quotes the above psalm saying that they most certainly HAD! He says:
Romans 10: 17: Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they [the Jews] not hear? Of course, they did: "Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world."
In other words, the STARS must have told them.
This verse clearly indicates that God created the stars to declare His plan and that they did somehow declare the coming of the Messiah in a way that the Jews would surely have noticed. There were other allusions to the signs in the heavens that the Messiah would be among us.
Luke 21: 25 "There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars..."
Now we are certain that there were such signs, but what were they? Modern science has provided us with the means to find exactly that. Johannes Kepler gave mankind the knowledge of the clockwork rotation of the stars and the mathematical principles required to predict it. Today’s information technology had made it possible for every human being to access this knowledge at will. Mr. Larson, the creator of the video, purchased a set of software designed to display the planets, stars, and other celestial bodies in their proper alignment and position in the sky from any vantage point on any given day, past, present, or future. You can see the possibilities that would intrigue any dedicated Christian who possessed such a tool. He set to work.
Mr. Larson determined from the account of the star in Matthew’s gospel, that there are nine facts that we know to be true about the star. He reasoned that since we believe in the truth of the gospel, all nine points must be met completely for any premise about the star to be accepted as truth.
These are the nine facts:
1. It signified birth.
2. It signified kingship.
3. It had a connection with the Jewish nation.
4. It rose in the east, like other stars.
5. It appeared at a precise time.
6. Herod didn't know when it appeared.
7. It endured over time.
8. It was ahead of the Magi as they went south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
9. It stopped over Bethlehem.
The DVD gives us a deeper and more detailed account of the signs in the sky depicting the coming of the Messiah, but here is the ultimate breakdown.
Jupiter has been known from ages-old, and by almost every known culture, to the present day as the King Planet. In September of 3 BC at the time of the Jewish New Year, Rosh ha-Shanah, Jupiter began to come into close conjunction with the star, Regulus, a name which also means “king”. Jupiter glides slowly past Regulus about every 12 years, making this event somewhat rare, but not extremely so; but there is more. Each night, the planets move along their orbits, against a seemingly still backdrop of stars. One night you may see Jupiter in one place in the sky, but on the next night, it would be apparent that it had moved significantly and be found near a completely different constellation.
Another strange movement is often noted with the planets. Because we observe them from a “moving platform” which is our earth, as we pass them by in our own orbit, they may appear to become still in the sky, or even to be moving backward, as a car would appear to go backward when we pass it on the highway. This is called retrograde motion. During this particular conjunction of Jupiter and Regulus in 3 BC, Jupiter continued along its orbit, then began it’s retrograde, heading back to Regulus for a second conjunction, then reversed yet again for a THIRD. A triple conjunction is exceedingly rare, yet with this software, we know that it happened during the season of Rosh ha-Shana in 3 BC.
The magi would most certainly have seen a “coronation” of the king star by the king planet. It is also of interest to know that this coronation occurred in the constellation Leo and that the Messiah is also prophesied to be from the tribe of Judah, whose symbol is the lion. This would be interpreted as heralding the arrival of a specifically “Jewish” king.
Genesis 49: 9-10 You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion, he crouches and lies down, like a lioness-- who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
Yet, amazingly, there is still more.
As Jupiter was beginning the coronation of Regulus, another startling symbol rose in the sky. The constellation which rises in the east behind Leo is Virgo, The Virgin. When Jupiter and Regulus were first meeting, she rose clothed in the Sun, the moon was at her feet. It was a new moon, symbolically birthed at the feet of The Virgin. Scripture scholars of any level will recognize this imagery. In Revelation we read an account of the prophecies given to the beloved disciple, John the Evangelist, during his exile on the island of Patmos:
Revelation 12: 1-5: 1 A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. 4 His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter...
Surely, this passage refers to the virgin birth of Jesus and the dragon, Herod, who would wait to devour Him. This image appeared in the sky at the same time as the coronation of the King. The magi would see these images at the same time and realize that a Jewish king had been given to the world, the one prophesied to be born of a virgin.
Mr. Larson concluded that these images in the sky may have appeared at the birth of the Savior, but most probably occurred at His conception, giving the magi time to observe the signs, recognize and interpret them and begin their long journey. The constellations which would appear nine months later, in June of 2BC, would be even more interesting. Jupiter would finish crowning Regulus and continue toward the planet Venus, the Mother Planet, to form a spectacular conjunction. They would pass so close to each other that the light which would emanate from them would become the brightest star any living person has ever seen, or would ever see. No one alive at that time had ever seen such a brilliant star. Jupiter and Venus were seen together in the western sky; as the magi came from the East, they would have headed toward them.
But how did it appear to stop over Bethlehem? Once again, we see retrograde motion come into play. The software clearly shows that on the night of the 25 of December, in the year 2 BC, the planet Jupiter enters into retrograde motion and appears to come to a full stop over the town of Bethlehem! Did this mean that Christ was born on December 25? No. This was the day that the star came to rest over the place where the Child was, and He was found by the kings, at nearly six months old.
How magnificent is Our God to have placed all these stars in the sky from the beginning of time, setting them in precise motion, like a clock, to tick and tock throughout the ages and align themselves precisely to form such patterns that we could interpret and marvel at today!
Without modern technology, we would most likely not have noticed what the ancient magi did back then. Today, when society is so severely tempted to ignore and deny God’s existence, He permits us to find such startling and clear evidence of Him. What else is in the stars? Yes…there is more…