Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Look! though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples, on you Yahweh is rising and over you his glory can be seen. The nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness. - Isaiah 60:2-3

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking, "Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage." - Matthew 2:1-2

I love watching those shows on Discovery Channel, History Channel and The National Geographic Channel which have snappy titles like "Science of the Bible" or "History of the Bible" or "The Story of Jesus," but not for the reasons you might think. These are those programs that will take the stories found in the Gospels and piece by piece using modern techniques and interviews with all numbers of talking heads from the ivory towers of Princeton, Harvard, and Yale Schools of Divinity (I find irony in that) dismantle the stories, and then rewrite them according to what really happened. They seem to be quite proud of themselves for having gotten to the bottom of things as they really are, once again proving that Christ and the Church's teachings about him are all a big sham. Do I get irritated? I suppose on some level I do, but on a higher level I find humor in their ill fated attempts to rock my faith.

The star of Bethlehem is one such story that gets attention every year at this time. Some scholars will go out of their way to decry the myth behind the story saying it is absolutely preposterous that a star would behave in the manner described by St. Matthew, while others will actually attempt to explain it through some natural phenomenon such as a supernova or an allignment of planets or a comet or some other such hooey, while still others will explain it as a Christian answer to the Roman emporer Octavian Augustus who called himself divi filius (or son of god) and fashioned a star on coins with his image (these may actually be on to something, by the way). Regardless, they all for the most part miss the point.

Here is the point. For centuries the prophets had been proclaiming that the Gentiles would come to know and worship the true God, and they did this by using images of light and darkness. Darkness covered the earth in the sense that nations meandered with no clear cut path, for to the ancient Gentiles, time was seen as a circle, and history moved aimlessly like people who walk in the dark. It had no beginning or end. However to the Jews, time was a progressing line of history, a path with a beginning and an end, and God shed light to guide the people of Israel on the path. The passage from Isaiah shows that the glory of God is a light which shines on the people of Israel and will intrigue the nations (another word for the Gentiles) drawing their kings to its brightness.

St. Matthew picks up on this prophecy, for to him, Jesus is the light that arises from Israel and intrigues the Gentiles, and through Jesus, all people will be drawn to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, the only God there is. He uses the image of wise men from "the east" (which is somewhere near Timbuktu, i.e. vaguely distant) who were drawn to the infant King of the Jews by the rising of his star. Truth is, Jesus is the star, for he is the light which has guided Israel thus far and then intrigued and drew the Gentiles (represented by the three wise men from "the east") to himself, the Son of God. Why does the star come to rest over Bethlehem? Simple. Because that is where tradition says that Jesus was born (get it? the dawning or rising of the star over Bethlehem = the birth of the savior in Bethlehem who is the light of the world).

So, when seen in this light (pun intended), the people who make those programs like "Science of the Bible" end up looking rather blind or ignorant in their quest to disprove the historical accuracy of the stories of the bible. Whether the star was a supernova or a comet or not even a celestial event at all is irrelevant. Those of us who see with the eyes of faith get it. We know that the glory of the Lord has been revealed, and all flesh has seen it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. Amen.

While outward signs the star displays,
An inward light the Lord conveys,
And urges them, with force benign,
To seek the Giver of the sign.


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