The First Noel, the Solstice of 2020 and Christmas
"The First Noel, the Solstice of 2020 and Christmas; It is never too dark for God’s Light to appear"
Dr. RB McFee
“See, darkness cover the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you.”
One wonders if every generation has its dark time – a year or era where the very notion of goodness becomes remote, seemingly impossible. A time when the tunnel is barely visible, let alone the light at the end of it. Times that test our faith seemingly to the breaking point. Times when we hold onto God by habit or desperation if not by tenacious, outright belief.
In times like these we often find ourselves looking up at the sky, at the stars, and ask “where are you God?” We envision an all encompassing Creator in the heavens, but wonder is He remote or actively present. The Wise Men and many scholars in antiquity looked to the night sky for answers. Many still do in quiet prayer. Do the stars wink at us in reply?
Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth must have felt like such a time. 2020 feels like such a time. I’m sure for parents, grandparents, or great grandparents, the Depression and World War II felt like such times. It is during these eras that almost everyone is touched by some form of suffering.
And yet we read over and over again in the Bible that the darkness shall not overcome the Light. Which makes the First Noel - the Nativity story - so powerful, and instructive. And what makes the solstice of 2020 a powerful reminder of God’s love.
Consider at the time of Jesus’ birth two groups of people saw a supernatural light. For the shepherds watching their flocks on a hillside in or near Bethlehem that light was the Angel of God and His Heavenly host announcing, celebrating the birth of our Savior. Far away three influential, wealthy scholars – kings perhaps, or maybe royal priests, no one is exactly sure their pedigree, but let it suffice men of great influence, also saw a light – one sufficiently powerful, unexpected, and unique in characteristic – to get their attention, and compel them (inspire is too passive a word) to follow it.
The shepherds were among the lowliest of people, almost outcasts with little access to polite society – and the Magi had access to kings and royal courtiers. And yet these are the two groups of people God invited as the first to witness and worship, and provide for His son. God is mindful of all, especially in times of darkness.
The Light of God reached to distant places – to people who weren’t Jews, who weren’t considered “the chosen people.” Because God was letting us know for all generations that His Light was for all. God’s message…. no circumstance in your life – good or bad, prosperity or poverty – will keep you from His attention or gifts. Receiving a personal message from the Angel of God certainly sounds like a gift to me! Getting to be among the first to meet God’s Son seems like a gift. Knowing God sees me – whether on a humble hillside or opulent oasis, that’s a gift.
But it goes beyond that.
When Christ was born, God lit an amazing birthday candle! He sent a flashlight into the world at a time of great darkness. And it was a spectacular one. If it was as impressive as the Christmas cards, and carols portray, well no wonder people have talked about it, looked for it to come again, painted, and written about it for so many years.
For most Christians, down deep we long to experience the amazing events that happened when Jesus was born. We want to be ‘first touch’ or ‘Divine experience’ Christians. Faith is great, but sometimes I think we wish we were there, in person, to feel the humanity of our Savior. Yet God’s message – I am here in the darkness, and My Light will always burn brightly for you. Sometimes we just have to look inward to find it.
As far as The Star, for two thousand years astrologers, astronomers, scientists, religious scholars, and amateur sky watchers have been looking for it. They have tried to identify what exactly was the celestial phenomenon that led the Magi to the Christ Child. Perhaps that is one of the miracles of Christmas – that something God set into motion has had people thinking about the times of His transformation into Emmanuel for two millennia.
Not surprisingly as the darkest time of the calendar year approaches, and Christmas draws near we not only think about our relationship with Christ, looking inward spiritually, we also look skywards and think about the angels appearing to the shepherds, and what the Magi must have seen. And as the winter solstice approaches this week, thoughts turn to the stars, especially the star that appeared near Jesus’ birthplace. We wonder what caused the light that guided them. Was it a star, a super nova, a comet, planets converging?
This year interest in star gazing is even greater because of the rare phenomenon where the planets Jupiter and Saturn converge on the night of the solstice. Both planets are bright enough in and of themselves to be visible to the naked eye, so to have them appear as if one celestial body – something that hasn’t occurred in hundreds of years, will be a sight to behold.
The newspapers and social media are already calling the Jupiter-Saturn convergence as the Bethlehem Star. To be sure it is a rare event to have these come so close in the sky as to appear as one. But does it measure up to “Star of Bethlehem” status? There are those who believe Jupiter alone was the light that led the three Wise Men to Jesus, on the notion that it is the kingly planet, appropriate to the birth of our King and Savior.
The other night we had a reprieve from overcast skies and driving home in the city there they were….the two planets Jupiter and Saturn – not yet converged, but still readily visible, as you can see in the photograph I took. Notice in the middle of the image between the bright streetlight (which is how I envision the brightness of The Star) and the church there are two bright dots – the brightest is Jupiter, and to the upper left is Saturn. Even when they converge do you think that would be bright enough or impressive enough leading kings to go West to Jerusalem? And do you think two planets can in concert with each other change direction in the sky, or only be visible to a handful of people?
As people of faith, does it even matter what led the Magi to Christ?
In the first Advent Bible fellowship Pastor John talked about the Star of Bethlehem, and brought up the notion that the Star really wasn’t an astronomical event but an angel. Citing Biblical texts, including Job and Revelation, the term “star” was often a reference for angel. As such it makes sense when one considers the Bethlehem Star led people West and then South over a very specific location. Celestial bodies do not move in all directions. They don’t lead people over a specific house.
According to the Gospels, The Star of Bethlehem wasn’t visible to everyone. Does that not seem odd? If it was a planet, comet, nova, or other astronomical event, wouldn’t everyone see it? Herod seemed truly caught unawares about any bright light in the sky when the Magi visited him. The travelers and inn keepers near where the Holy Family stayed didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary that evening. The Bible tells us angels can appear to whom they choose at the exclusion of others nearby.
In Star of the King: Revelations of the Supernatural Behind the Star of Bethlehem, Jeffrey W. Mardis, makes an interesting suggestion – that the Star of Bethlehem, and the Angel of Bethlehem, the Angel of the Lord, were in fact the Presence of God Himself, not unlike the Presence of God when He appeared to Moses through the burning bush. Using a variety of Biblical references, he may be correct.
That said, whether the Star was an angel of the Lord or the Angel of the Lord – the Lord Himself – that an angel touched mankind in the form of light so powerful and so compelling that we talk about it two thousand years later, on such a sacred night reminds us how important we are in the grand celestial scheme of things. Christ’s birth – the joy of it involved, required us. It was because of us that Christ came, and it was because of us that God sent His voice, His light to announce it, to make certain the event was spread far and wide.
The Solstice Convergence – Not the Star, but a sign from God nonetheless?
As people of faith we acknowledge God created the stars, the heavens, and the earth. We believe that nothing is out of His realm or capability or control. Coincidence in our lives is an event we have yet to discover God’s purpose for. That said, I wonder, could the planetary convergence be a God wink for us in a challenging time? If ever we need to look up in the sky to focus on God it is 2020. Is it coincidence that this is the year for a very rare planetary convergence?
Personally I doubt this convergence is the same phenomenon that caused the Star of Bethlehem because I believe The Star was actually an angel of God. I believe that the appearance of the angel, the Heavenly Host and the “Star” that appeared to the Three Wise Men were all from God. Whether they were actually the Light of God as in God Himself, or the Light of God through His angels is something the Almighty alone can answer. Nevertheless, He was and remains personally involved in our lives.