I love to gaze at stars. The night sky causes me to ponder the greatness of God and my own insignificance in the vast universe. Don’t bother me with the scientific and mathematical mysteries. I’m way too right brained for that! Give me a Van Gogh “Starry Night” sky and let me dream the night away.

Years ago, while family camping at Camp Crosley, I had the opportunity to view Saturn from an observatory telescope. Those rings — they’re real! I saw them with my own two eyes! In spite of my left brain deficits, that night I got a taste of celestial curiosity.

Did you know that computers are able to track planetary and stellar motions over the past 5,000 years? Modern astronomers can visually recreate these events, and during the Christmas season, you can visit a planetarium and view the very astronomical events that caught the eye of the Magi—projected on a theater dome. Wow!

There were three astronomical events involving the planet Jupiter that caused a stir among the ancient star-gazers. On Aug. 12, 3 BC, the first of these events occurred: a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus

The following June, there was a second and most spectacular conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. For several weeks, astrologers had been monitoring the eastward path of the planet Venus which appeared to be on a collision course with Jupiter. At twilight, on the evening of June 17, 2 BC, the conjunction occurred on the western horizon. To the naked eye, these two dominant stars — though millions of miles apart— appeared as one brilliant star. It is believed that the twinkling caused by the unsteady horizon atmosphere blurred the two planets into a solitary “star.”

According to modern astronomers, it was this second celestial event that caused the Magi to saddle up their camels in Mesopotamia and head westward, in the direction of Palestine. What inspired the Magi’s hot pursuit of this particular “star”? Well, for starters, predictions of these astronomical events of 3 and 2 B.C. were made 400 years before the birth of Christ — and the events occurred with amazing accuracy, within a few days of these ancient predictions.

In addition, celestial events were considered to be signs that prophesy was about to be fulfilled. One prediction maintained that a powerful ruler would come out of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Other astronomical events occurring around the same time were believed to indicate the impending birth of a great king of Israel.

This was also an eventful era for the Roman Empire. The Romans were celebrating the 25th jubilee year of Caesar Augustus’ reign, the 750th anniversary of the founding of Rome, and the granting of the prestigious title of “Father of the Country” to Augustus. It was a happening time and the celestial stirrings were seen as favorable omens of these historical events.

If our modern news agencies had been around at the time, reporters and photographers would have converged on Babylon like vultures on a carcass, providing gripping, blow-by-blow, up-to-the-minute, 24/7 coverage of the celestial events and the majestic journey. There would have been scientific documentaries, human interest stories, interviews of all the major players, including astronomers and astrologers, prophets, politicians, the guy on the street…

A third astronomical event occurred later that same year. To anyone viewing the early night sky on one particular evening, while in the vicinity of Jerusalem, the planet Jupiter would have appeared to stop and hover over Bethlehem. (This has something to do with the laws of planetary motion — boring, left-brained stuff.) Would you like to wager a guess as to what day of the year this occurred? Dec. 25!

While I can’t verify the accuracy of this information (gleaned from the Internet!), it is intriguing. My celestial curiosity converges with my faith and hope under the Star of Bethlehem.

Next week: Part VI: Star Light: Through the Eyes of Christ

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