STAR OF BETHLEHEM
By Pastor Glenn Pease
A father and his son were walking down a street in New York back in the days when service flags with a star were hung in windows to indicate that a son from that home had been killed in the World War. The boy pointed to a window and said, "There is a home that has given a son, and look there is another star, and there are two in that window." Then he looked up into the evening sky and said, "Look dad, God too must have given a Son, for there is a star in His window." God did indeed give a Son to be the Captain of our salvation and to lay down His life that we might be victors in the greatest war of all. The star then can even be a symbol of the atoning death of Christ, but it more closely relates to His amazing birth. In fact, there is no other symbol of Christmas that is more meaningful than the star of Bethlehem.
The coming of Christ was foretold in Num. 24:17, "There shall come a star out of Jacob." In Rev. 22:16 Jesus is called "The bright and morning star." In the Church Of The Nativity in Bethlehem there is a cave reported to be the place where Jesus was born. The very spot of His birth is marked with a large silver star in the floor. Many Christmas hymns and carols use the star as their theme. You have Star In The East, Have You Ever Seen The Star, O Star Of Bethlehem, The Star Of Midnight, The Wise Men Saw A Light Afar, and O Lovely Star That Shown So Bright.
People bake and buy cookies in star shape. Star shape holders hold many burning candles. Stars adorn wrapping paper, greeting cards, and decorations of all kinds. In Palmer Lake, Colorado a star 500 feet across is placed on the side of Sundance Mountain, and it can be seen for 20 miles. A 91 foot high electric star is built on South Mountain in Bethlehem, PA, which can be seen for many miles. In lands like Spain, Italy and Russia the literal stars even play a role in their Christmas, for they wait for the appearance of the first star on Christmas Eve before they begin their celebration. In Poland it is the star man or star lady that supposedly brings children gifts from heaven. We could go on giving countless illustrations of the role the star plays in the celebration of Christmas all over the world, but this is sufficient to make the point that the star is a basic symbol of Christmas. It is so because God made it so prominent in His revelation.
I. THE LIGHT OF THE STAR.
Never did starlight carry such a precious message as did the star of Bethlehem. Here was God's heavenly light declaring to those in darkness that the Light of the world was born. The star of Bethlehem was the very first missionary of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Apart from its light no one could have ever know of the birth of Jesus, but by its light Gentiles were brought to worship Him. God used the star to make the birth of Jesus an event of blessing for all people by bringing those who were far off into the presence of His Son. Missions began on Christmas, and the successful work of the star of Bethlehem shows us that its light was the light of love. God so loved the world, and not just Israel, that He gave His Son, and the light of the star was proof that His love expressed in the gift of His Son included all people. The star of Bethlehem should be precious to us as Gentile Christians for it is equivalent to the star of David. It is a symbol of the fact that in Christ we are all God's chosen people. Those who were no people became the people of God, and it began with the star of Bethlehem leading the Gentiles to Christ.
A star was the nearest thing to being divine to these wise men, and its light conveyed to them the message that one who was truly divine was born. Whether they fully understood that the Christ child was God incarnate or not is hard to say, but they did come prepared to worship Him, and so whatever else they learned from the light of the star, they learned for sure that it spoke of love, for they came with gifts and hearts prepared to respond in love.
Ray Bradbury in his science fiction book describes one of the pioneers of the future in Independence, MO. She is a young girl preparing, not to head West in a covered wagon as was once the setting, but to head for Mars in a rocket ship to marry her fiancé who was already there. She is trembling and nervous, so before she leaves she seeks to gain assurance she is doing the right thing by calling her fiancé on the space phone. His reply is so blotted out by electrical interference that she heard only one word distinctly and that was the word love. On the basis of that one word she took off and launched out into a new life in space. What could be further removed from ancient Magi in the land of Persia with no vehicles but camels? Yet the basic plot is the same, for these ancient wise men had to launch out on a great journey with only the light of the star of Bethlehem to assure them of God's love.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine.
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
The star of Bethlehem was God's light declaring His love to the Gentiles. It spoke of love and also of glory. Such a glorious sign conveys a message of majesty. Its rays tell of the royalty of the one to be born, and the wise men knew it, for they ask "Where is he who is born king of the Jews?" What could God have used that would be more appropriate then a star to symbolize the glory of the gift He gave in His Son. A meaningful symbol must in some way participate in the reality of that which it symbolizes. The angel said the child would be the Son of the Highest, and there is nothing but a star that could stand for the glory of such a birth.
You do not represent a king with a worm, but with a lion. Here is a King that nothing less than a star could represent. It must have been exceedingly brilliant, for there was no doubt in the minds of the Magi as to the majesty to the one it represented. Mrs. J. P. Jarvis wrote,
'Tis Bethlehem's exalted star,
The light of heaven come down to earth.
Its glory shining from afar
Proclaims the holy Savior's worth.
The poet has seen what the wise men saw, and that was that the light of the star not only told of Christ's birth, but of His worth. The very existence of such a star made it clear that the birth of Christ had universal implications. Never before had the heavens declared the glory of God to the degree that the star of Bethlehem declared it, for never before was there so much to declare, for never before had God done anything so glorious as the giving of His Son. The Light of the World had come at last, and nothing but a glorious star could even begin to represent the meaning of that marvelous event. "Morning Star, O cheering sight! Ere thou camst how dark earth's night."
The glorious light of the star of Bethlehem is also a symbol of the truth that Christmas did not begin on earth but in heaven. Christmas did not begin in the manger of Bethlehem, but in the mind of God before the world began. The birth of Christ in Bethlehem was the beginning of God's actualizing His plan of salvation in time. The date and the name Christmas are man made, but the star of Bethlehem is a permanent reminder that the event itself is of God, and that it was supernatural. Just as Jesus was unique and miraculously born of a virgin, so this wondrous star was unique and miraculous. It took a miracle in the heavens to represent the miracle, which was taking place on earth. The shepherds were also notified by means of the supernatural announcement of the angels.
The star is more significant as a symbol, however, for even though there was only one star of Bethlehem there are many more that can still remind us of the glory of the birth of Christ. A godless leader of the French Revolution said to a peasant, "I will have all your steeples pulled down that you may no longer have any object by which you are reminded of your old superstitions." The wise peasant replied, "You cannot help leaving us the stars." When all the trees, ribbons and lights are removed, the stars go on shining as permanent symbols of Him who was a babe in Bethlehem, but who is now Himself the Bright and Morning Star.
The star of Bethlehem is a symbol of the permanence of the event of Christ's birth. This event was not like a meteor shooting into our vision and as rapidly burned up never to be seen again. It is an event with universal and eternal consequences. We need to stress the truth revealed by the light of the star of Bethlehem, for it is meant to lead all who are wise to the worship of His Son. May our prayer be that of William Cullen Bryant:
O Father, may that holy star
Grow every year more bright.
And send its glorious beams afar
To fill the world with its light.
II. THE LEADING OF THE STAR.
W e have referred to this already, but our thoughts have primarily centered on the significance on the light of the star, and the message it conveyed just by its existence. The Scripture indicates, however, that the star did more than give a message, for it actually moved. It did not just point to Christ, but it lead to Christ. As glorious as was its message, its purpose for being was not completed until it led the wise men to the Savior. No star is worth following if it stops short of Christ. However great are the promises of any journey in life, beware of it if Christ is not there when you reach your destination. Adventure is legitimate for the Christian, for it was God's method of calling these Magi to their greatest discovery, and God uses it today. We believe in hitching our wagon to a star and launching out with high aspiration. But we are not thereby related to the wise men unless the star we follow is related to the star of Bethlehem, which they followed. Any star that leads us closer to Christ is related to the star of Bethlehem, but any star that leads us away from Him is a false and fallen star.
When a false Messiah sought to gain a following nearly a century after Christ, He took the name Bar-Cocheba, which means "Son of a star." He caused a star to be stamped upon the coinage he issued. Such is the subtlety of Satan in using the same symbols of the truth to promote error and evil. Every light we follow must measure up to the star of Bethlehem and lead to Christ. All natural revelation must be tested by this standard. The Star of Bethlehem is conclusive proof that God has led men by means of natural revelation-that is by means of His material creation. Many are the means that can be used to lead men, but none are valid unless they lead to Christ.
The Star of Bethlehem ceased to shine for a time so that the wise men might be compelled to seek the help of the Jews and Scripture. It appears again, however, and led them right to the Christ child where they could respond to the message of love with their own gifts of love, and to the message of glory with their worship of the Lord of glory. The wise men said, "We have seen His star and have come to worship Him." The star was distinctly His star. Its very light had its source in Him, who was the author of all light. The infinite was reduced to the limitations of an infant. The eternal Word was speechless as a baby in a manger, but His star spoke for Him. It was the tongue of heaven saying, "Follow me to the greater light-the Lord of Light." The well known carol, We Three Kings Of Orient Are has captured this truth: "Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light."
Tis now fulfilled what God decreed-
From Jacob shall a star proceed;
And so, the Eastern sages stand,
To read in heaven the Lord's command.
The bottom line is that no star is a valid Christmas star that does not lead us to the worship of God's greatest gift, which was and is His Son. The wise men were not wise because they saw the star, for anyone could look up and see its bright brilliance blazing across the Eastern sky. It was not their eyes that made them wise. It was their hands and feet, for the eyes gave them the message, but their hands prepared gifts and their feet took them on a journey to see the King. Here was knowledge applied by a practical action, and that is what wisdom is all about. We are not truly wise until we think and act like the one who wrote this poetry:
Though sun is set, though night is dark, though road is rough, though goal is far; I trudge along my way assured, for I have seen the Christmas star.
Though men may hate, though tyrants rise to scorch fair earth unto a wild;
I do not yield, I hold my ground, for I have found the Christmas child.