“Guiding Star, o may we heed thee,
May we know we ever need thee,
Lead us to our Savior King!
Lead us to our Savior King”
This 1810 Danish carol by Grundtvig, “Delig Er Den Himmel Bla,” retells the Matthew account of the Star of Bethlehem that led the Magi to Bethlehem to worship the Infant King.
But what was the Star? That has been a mystery and a controversy for many centuries.
Rick Larson, a law professor at Texas A & M, provides some excellent information and insight, as well as a forum for discussion, on his website (http://www NULL.bethlehemstar NULL.net/). In a series of posts, Professor Larson demonstrates that the Star could not have been a wandering star from another galaxy, a comet, a meteor, a supernova, or any of the phenomena that scholars and theorists have latched onto to explain the Star. Rather, he says, the Star was the planet Jupiter, named after the greatest god of Roman mythology, which, starting in 3 BC, came into a close conjunction with the star Regulus. The Planet of Kings, he says, met the Star of Kings. As Jupiter moved across the sky, moving against a field of fixed stars, it would appear from an earthly human platform to move in an irregular course, even retrograde, as it seems to head back toward Regulus for a second conjunction. In this way, he says, it could appear to stop over the stable in Bethlehem.
Professor Larson’s explanation is better than most, but I still am not convinced that, simply following scientific laws, a planet could appear in the East, lead westward toward Jerusalem, then abruptly do a sharp turn to the southeast toward Bethlehem, and then appear to stop over the Bethlehem stable.
But that’s the key: This is not simply a scientific phenomenon. Rather, God intervened in the cosmos, which as Creator and Sustainer He reserves the right to do. He took the Star (whether a planet, star, comet, asteroid, or special body prepared by God for this purpose) out of its normal courses and caused it to move in a way that led the Magi to Christ.
In this way, the Star was the work of the Holy Spirit, for it is the Holy Spirit Who leads us to Christ. As the Apostle Paul said, “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (I Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit leads us to God, and specifically to Christ, by inspiring men of old to write the Scriptures, and in a lesser way to inspire men of God throughout history to read and preach the Scriptures.
Not only are we unable to save ourselves by our works; we are saved by grace through faith. But there is more: we are even unable to manufacture and exercise saving faith of our own volition. Rather, the Father draws us to Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the Old Testament we see what theologians call “theophanies,” that is, appearances of God on earth before the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God appeared to Moses in the burning bush; He led the Israelites through the wilderness by the cloud by day and the fiery pillar (the Shekinah glory) by night.
The Star of Bethlehem was a similar theophany — God the Holy Spirit leading the Magi to Christ. And whether this theophanic appearance of the Holy Spirit was a physical object like a star or planet, or a special creation for that purpose, or nonphysical uncreated Light, is interesting but far less important than the recognition that God the Holy Spirit worked through that Star to lead the magi to Christ.
“Guiding Star, o may we heed thee. May we know we ever need thee… .” Do we need the Star today?
The simple, if indirect, answer, is that we need the leading of the Holy Spirit more than ever. As much as ever, we journey across a dark desert, hindered on our journey by the ominous specters of secularism, Darwinism, Marxism, postmodernism, nihilism, false religions, and the worship of self. More than ever, we need the Holy Spirit, working through the Word and the Sacraments, to set us on the right course and keep us on the right course as we journey into a right relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Following the Star, “O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”
The Foundation for Moral Law wishes you a truly Merry Christmas, a Christmas made extra special through deeper knowledge of and love for our Lord.