Human nature always wants to have an idea about what’s coming down the pike. What’s happening next? For example how many among us make the practice of glancing at the daily horoscope, over early morning coffee? Most of us of course don’t put any credibility in it, but it doesn’t prevent many among us from at least taking a peek, and making a comment to the effect that we hope the runes might be favorable for the day.
Ancient man was no different from us in that respect. They too wanted to know what the future might portend. And in order to ascertain what that future might portend they employed the offices of certain magi or astrologers or astronomers to look into the heavens and to try to predict what might come to pass on earth. All ancient peoples engaged in this practice.
Even the ancient Hebrews who were instructed by the law of Scripture and were forbidden to engage in augury, astrology, and witchcraft had a system by which the time of the month and the season of the year were determined by looking up into the heavens and observing the cycle of the Moon and the stars. Many of the ancient Jewish festivals described in Scripture were based on the cycle of determining the new Moon, including the Passover, which is why the date of our celebration of Easter varies from year to year.
But lest we be too quick to just dismiss the story of the journey of the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem as though it were pious fiction, let me point out for you that there was a great deal of interest in the ancient world with the phenomenon that actually took place. This was observed in the heavens between seven and four BC. At the time it was presumed to be some sustained comet, for such were not unknown to the ancient world, with modern Astronomy, it is presumed that it was the confluence of planets in the night sky.
Exactly how that phenomenon was understood was variously interpreted. According to some sources the historian Josephus believed that it referred to the rising star of the Emperor Roman Emperor Vespasian. Others of course look to the prophecy that they regarded in Numbers chapter 24 verse 17 which reads:
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near;
a star shall come out of Jacob;
a scepter shall rise out of Israel,
and batter the brow of Moab,
and destroy all the sons of tumult.
The early church fathers all particularly loved and enjoyed this prophecy because they understood it as a foretelling of the birth of Jesus. His birth and the appearance of the star of Bethlehem it was understood as the fulfillment of what it been prophesied in Numbers chapter 24. And Saint Matthew, writing particularly to a Jewish audience would have been eager to point out the way in which the birth of our Lord was demonstrated by the appearance of the star foretold in Numbers 24.
But more than that they understood the imagery of the light coming into the heavens shining upon the world was the foretelling in the prophecy of the light that came into the world: the light to shine in the darkness the light which the apostle John tells us that the darkness cannot overcome and cannot comprehend.
There is more evidence for this wondrous star of Bethlehem than there is for all the historical conjecture that gets passed off as fact in such places as the history channel and in print and in the National Geographic programming to which we are often accept as fact without so much as a second passing thought.
But as well you and I may wonder about that star of Bethlehem and the journey of the Magi, yet there remains a way in which the message is highly pointed for our time and for our place. That is that the light has come into the world and that Light is the light of Jesus Christ and that is the true light which lights every man that comes into the world and through whom the world was made. Since that light has come into the world you and all human beings are confronted with a choice. You can choose to ignore the light. You can choose to deny that there is light. You can opt to be too spiritually lazy to act upon the reality that the light has come into the world. But none of those options change the reality that God has in fact sent his light into the world. Your choice, your acceptance or your denial of the light does not change whether or not the light has objectively come into the world. Your attitude towards the light to wit whether you like it or not does not change in the slightest a reality: God hold you responsible that His light is coming into the world. He expects you to respond by turning towards that light and not away from it.
We need to understand it understand it and understand it clearly in our time that we need to hear the message of the light no less then did ancient peoples. They needed a Savior but we still need a Savior. To be sure they needed to see the light of salvation but we still need to see the light of salvation.