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Weekly Reflections

The Star 29 Dec 13

The Star

Around 1600 Johannes Kepler worked out the mathematical mystery of the orbit of the planets.  He thought they rotated around the sun in perfect circles, but his observations led him to the view that they traveled in elliptical orbits. Once he had discovered this he then worked out the mathematical equations that could describe the path of the planets at any time and from any viewpoint on earth.

Kepler was a believer and he started to calculate what planets could have been seen from Mesopotamia at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was hindered because he did not know the exact year of Jesus’ birth.  And his calculations took a long time.

Nowadays with computer programs it is fairly easy to have a picture of the night sky for any night of the year in any place.  And back in about 6 or 7 BC it seems that there were conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn (three times some say) and  Mars joined in too. So astronomers (or astrologers as they probably were) would have sat up and taken notice. Their own theories about these planets may have led them to believe the conjunction  indicated an important ruler was to be born.  But they may also have heard prophecies from the Jewish community which indicated that they were expecting a ruler that their prophecies referred to as a star (Num 24.17).

So was God giving the Magi a secret message? No because they did not understand what it meant. They guessed (with right or wrong reasoning) that the “star” referred to a new King – probably of the Jews. So they went to find out. What God did was to put a sign in the sky.  This is not unusual. God used the sky as a signboard many times (remember Noah,  Joel 2.30, Lk 23.44 etc).

But the meaning of what was seen in the sky was not to be found in the sky (even though the Magi had a good idea). The Magi had to be told by Jewish scholars (Matt 2.4) what the sky sign referred to.

But the meaning of the sign appears to have escaped the scholars because it was the foreign astrologers who worshipped the new King and gave him gifts.

So why did God do this? One reason may be that when the creator took human flesh the whole creation was involved in pointing to this great event. From the point of view of the foreigners, it made clear at the very beginning of Jesus’ life on earth that foreigners were included among his worshippers.

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