By Tracy Cabrera
AFTER almost 800 years, earthbound observers will again gaze upon the so-called ‘Christmas Star’ that according to the Bible, guided the ‘Three Magi’ who laid honor and gifts to the Christ Child born in a lowly manger in Bethlehem.
But historians note in the story of the Christmas Star, or otherwise known as the Star of Bethlehem, that it narrates about three magi or kings who brought gifts in honor of the Baby Jesus and it must be mentioned that based on Bible experts and in more than any other aspect of the Nativity, the three Wise Men are a result, they say, of falsified mythology.
Historically, the Good Book mentions the Wise Men only on a few occasions and in Matthew, they speak to King Herod and are sent to follow the Star of Bethlehem to find Jesus. The entirety of their interactions with Jesus are contained within a few lines: When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Additionally, the word ‘three’ never appears in the chapter. Many have commonly assumed there were three Wise Men because Jesus received three gifts, but the actual number is unknown.
Still, the once-every-two-decade conjunction of the solar system’s two giant planets—Jupiter and Saturn—will give an inspiring look at the ‘Christmas Star’ during this year’s winter solstice.
Come sunset Dec. 21 in any time zone around the world, the two planetary gas giants will seemingly merge into a single bright point of light low in the western sky.
Termed as ‘The Great Conjunction of 2020’, its light display will yield an expected spectacular astronomical sight involving the two planets unseen in nearly eight centuries.
Jupiter and Saturn have been approaching conjunction—a point when planets or other bodies as seen from the earth are near each other in the night sky—all year. That the conjunction is occurring near Christmas Day has given rise to talk about the Star of Bethlehem. or Christmas Star. that the Gospel of Matthew describes in his telling of the birth of Jesus.
But the description of the star “is a very minor part of the infancy narrative,” Vatican Observatory director Guy Consolmagno told the Catholic News Service.
“It’s so unimportant that Luke doesn’t talk about it and yet it has captured our imagination,” Consolmagno, a Jesuit brother, added.
It’s what the star represents—the birth of Jesus—that is the real story, he noted.
Theories abound about the Star of Bethlehem, he explained, citing the millions of hits about the topic on the internet and the 400 book titles referencing it that are available at online stores.
“To me, asking ‘What was the star?’ is a lot of fun, but not particularly significant either astronomically or theologically. Nothing’s really at stake if it turns to be this explanation or that explanation,” Bro. Consolmagno enthused.
Ideas about the Star of Bethlehem range from the natural—a great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter near the time of Jesus; birth or a comet—to the supernatural as a sign from God.
Or it could have been a metaphor used by St. Matthew “to show how important Jesus’ birth was to humanity,” Saint Olaf Parish pastor Father James Kurzynski disclosed.
“We need to remember that the Star of Bethlehem could have had different meanings for the people that Matthew was writing to,” Fr. Kurzynski, an amateur astronomer, explained after his homily in his parish in Eau Claire, Wisconsin,
“Was it a supernatural event? Was it an event to signal somehow, some way that there was something that was happening in the world that was signaling the birth of a king that was not just a human being, but that there was something different about this king?” he queried.
The pastor suggested that Matthew may have even meant that Jesus’ birth was the ‘great light’ bringing people out of the darkness in which they walked, as told in the Book of Isaiah.
Fr/ Kurzynski said the conjunction can be as inspirational as what the Catholic Church calls a sacramental such as a saint’s relic, a blessed medal, or rosary.
“Whether this conjunction is a Star of Bethlehem candidate or not, that night (December 21) can be a sacramental that people look up to and ask ‘What was it like when Christ was born?’ To me this is an opportunity for people to get out that night and meditate on what it may have been like when Christ was born. What does the birth of Christ mean to me?” he continued.
Whatever the Star of Bethlehem, Kurzynski and Consolmagno claimed that the upcoming astronomical event can allow people time to step outside to observe the beauty of creation and to realize that God is greater than any planetary dance, especially as the world continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, confront political divisiveness and experience social ills.
Astronomers described that the planetary conjunction will see bright white Jupiter and fainter yellowish Saturn separated by 0.1 degree, about one-fifth the diameter of a full moon. Binoculars will reveal the slim separation, but to the unaided eye, the planets will appear to converge. But in reality, Saturn will be twice as far from Earth as Jupiter will be. The close alignment occurs as Jupiter laps Saturn as they orbit the sun.
Astronomers added that the hulking orbs appear in conjunction about every 19.8 years, but not every close alignment is as near as this one. The last occurred May 28, 2000, but was nearly impossible to see because the two planets were in the sun’s glare in the early morning sky.
The last time Saturn and Jupiter appeared this close was July 16, 1623, but again it was highly unlikely that it was seen because of it occurred near the sun at sunset. The last easily visible super conjunction with such an apparent minimal separation was March 4, 1226. (From the Web/AI/MTVN)