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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Are the stars out tonight?

One of the questionable benefits of having a dog in the family is getting to experience the low temperature of the day when you take him or her outside at oh-dark-thirty. Since moving to northern Alabama I have discovered a more positive benefit of being outside in the (often moist) early morning darkness: the vivid and panoramic view of the pre-dawn star field.

I tend to look south and west, as those directions are first in view as I walk into the back yard. In the south are two star patterns that look (to me) just like a big and little dipper. Apparently my future does not lie in astronomy because after doing a little research, the stars we group together and call the Big and Little Dippers are in the northern sky, and move in a westerly direction as we enter the summer months.

The Big Dipper here is huge in the sky...

One of the the thoughts that always runs through my mind when I look at the stars is, "How did they all get where the are?"

That is usually followed by, "My brain hurts thinking about how everything moves around in the Universe - much less just our own little corner of it here in the Milky Way - and how did ancient sailors, shepherds and such figure it all out?"

"Hmm, that's unusual."

It's usually around Christmas (or Halloween if you're in retail) when everyone jumps on the Bethlehem shepherd bandwagon. But the questions above do tend to answer themselves if I think about it long enough. Before the advent of electricity, Google maps, even GPS, people traveling long distances had to figure out how to get from point A to point B. I'm guessing that if you were someone that spent their entire life in a field or on the ocean, you wiled away most nights looking at the stars. Eventually, you would begin to notice patterns and clusters that looked like certain, familiar things and that these things moved across the sky in a certain, predictable way, depending on what time of year it was.

Beginning in Luke 2:8, the Bible tells how an Angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds outside Bethlehem and announced the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew Chapter 2 explains how three wise men (magi) came to Jerusalem following a star, in search of the Messiah.

The magi would have been very familiar with the normal star constellations so one which was unusual would have certainly been noteworthy. It's tough to believe that three men renowned for their wisdom and knowledge would wander hundreds of miles to Jerusalem on a whim.

They were certainly wise enough to figure out what King Herod was up to and take a different route home.

I guess my point - despite the apt name of this blog - is that we see two groups of men who would have had vast knowledge of astronomical movements - the shepherds likely from a lifetime of observation and the magi, who would have studied the constellations more formally - and both were completely convinced of the information imparted:

A Savior had been born.

Two thousand years later, other so-called learned men have debunked these historic events as flights of fancy and myth. But where is their proof? Modern astronomers still argue over the veracity of the Star of Bethlehem. Some hold forth evidence that such an occurrence could absolutely have appeared in the 1st century sky. Others say hogwash. The fact is, we weren't there and while we can postulate all we want, we do have one text that clearly recounts the events and does not contradict itself.

Don't wait until Christmas to wonder at the coming of the Messiah. He is alive now. His earthly birth is an amazing and important event, but it's his second birth that has enormous and everlasting implications for all of us.

What do you think?


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