People spend a lot of time wondering about the Christmas star that the Magi followed. If you Google it, there are all sorts of discussions about what the event Matthew refers to might have been. Some people try to prove the existence of a celestial event. Some claim the evidence for the star is too weak and so didn’t happen and therefore disproves the gospel.
It’s interesting, this star Matthew talks about. In the ancient world, people expected some sort of celestial event at the birth and/ or death of important people. The birth of the Messiah, could reasonably be expected to have some sort of “star”. What is interesting is, while the Magi see it and follow it, evidently no one else sees it. When the Magi show up in Jerusalem, their story of seeing and following the new king’s star is a surprise to everyone else.
The Magi make their way to Herod’s court and ask about the new king of the Jews. The Magi missed the mark a bit- showing up in Jerusalem rather than Bethlehem. But it is an understandable mistake. Jerusalem is the location of secular and religious power, its where one might expect the new king to be. If the new king isn’t exactly in Jerusalem, one would expect to find people who can interpret signs and sacred texts to help you find the king.
Also, oddly, the star seems to come and go. It gets them to Jerusalem and then once Bethlehem is identified as the location of the new king and the Magi head that way, the star reappears. It is an oddly behaving star.
These few Magi (the text doesn’t tell us how many came) who show up in Jerusalem are not the only people in the ancient world to study the sky. But they are the only ones who recognize the star for what it was and follow it.
Was there a star or wasn’t there a star? Was it a big celestial event that no one else noticed? Or was it a more modest sign, only significant to those who were looking, those who were willing to follow. If that is so, the star is another small sign, like the sign given the shepherds in Luke’s gospel. And then we might want to wonder, why such small signs for such an important event?
To be sure, both stories have eye catching events that we might expect many people noticed, the sky filled with angels in Luke’s gospel, several foreign Magi asking questions and frightening all of Jerusalem in Matthew’s.
But who actually followed the star, who looked for a particular baby? Not so many.
I wonder, when have I noticed the eye catching event and not noticed or attended to the actual sign? How do I need to look at the world around me to see what is truly important?