What was the star of Bethlehem?


December 20, 2013

A UMNS Feature
By Heather Hahn*

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the reign of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.'” (Matthew 2:1-2, Common English Bible)

Just about every year at Christmastime, Nick Strobel can count on getting questions about the star that guided the magi.

Strobel is the planetarium director and a physical science professor at Bakersfield College in central California. As an astronomer and lifelong United Methodist, he has a certain affinity with the Bible’s most famous stargazers.

“We both have a love of the night sky,” said Strobel, a member of Wesley United Methodist Church in Bakersfield. “And, we search for a place or person where heaven and earth meet, and we both found that in the person of Jesus.”

The biblical account of the magi does not quite match the typical church Christmas pageant image of three little boys in scratchy beards and lopsided crowns dropping gifts by the baby Jesus’ manger.

The second chapter of Matthew — the only Gospel where the wise men appear — does not specify their number or say they were kings. Matthew also does not mention the no-vacancies inn, the manger or the quaking shepherds — those are all found in the Gospel of Luke.

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