In July, during my time in the Holy Land, I visited Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativitywhere a silver star marks the spot where Jesus is said to have been born. The Star of Bethlehem lies with tinseled angels on top of our Christmas trees. It is embossed on countless greeting cards and it has come to be one of the great symbols of the Nativity story.
For Matthew, the appearance of the star at the time of Jesus’ birth and the way it guided the Magi to where he lay is an impressive confirmation of Jesus’ messianic status. If it did occur, it would indeed be that, and it would also authenticate Matthew’s reliability as historically accurate biographer.
No wonder then that a fierce debate rages among the scholars over what the star might have been. Was it a planet like Jupiter, a supernova (an exploding star), a couple of meteors, or something else? Perhaps it was a miraculous body and therefore beyond scientific scrutiny? Or should it simply be regarded as mythical?
Many scripture scholars support the historicity of the account for several reasons: thebiographical genre of Matthew; the compatibility of Matthew’s narrative with the Roman historian Josephus’ account of Herod’s final years; the fact that if features astrologers(despised by Jews and Christians so unlikely to be protagonists in fabricated story).
As we approach the child this year with our doubts, fears and pains, may we find the comfort of kneeling space in the straw with the Magi, whoever they were and however they got there.