Christmas Day Service (12/25/2020) — The Star of Bethlehem

 

 

First Lesson:

Isaiah 52:7-10:

7How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” 8Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. 9Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.

 

Psalm 98 on Page 103 in Christian Worship

 

Sing to the Lord a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

The Lord has made his salvation known

and revealed his righteousness to the nations.

He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel;

all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,

burst into jubilant song with music;

make music to the Lord with the harp,

with the harp and the sound of singing.

Shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son

   and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning,

   is now, and will be forever.  Amen.

 

Second Lesson:

Hebrews 1:1-9:

1In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

5For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? 6And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” 8But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. 9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

 

Gospel Lesson:

John 1:1-14:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

Sermon Text:

Numbers 24:17a:

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.”

 

Sermon Manuscript:

Maybe you heard the news. Maybe you’ve even seen it in the Sky. It first showed up in the news about two or three weeks ago. This was not about something that had already happened in the world of politics or entertainment or sports; it was about something that was going to be happening in the Sky, a natural phenomenon. The news story was this: On December 20 1st of this year, the planets Jupiter and Venus were going to be very close together in the Sky. This made it into the news because , as we will see, it is one of the theories as to what the magi saw in the Sky when they saw the special star that announced the birth of Jesus. Ed made me think that maybe we could, on this Christmas day, take a closer look at …

 

The Star of Bethlehem

I. What was it?

II. What does it tell us?

 

It might surprise you, or it might not, but there are a lot of theories as to what the star of Bethlehem was. Let’s start on one end of the scale and , gradually, go all the way to the other. There are many in the world of liberal Christianity and in the unbelieving world (which many times is really close to the same thing) that the star of Bethlehem simply did not exist. They think that the writers of the gospels wanted to enhance the reputation of Jesus. Therefore, they say that they made up a mythic past for him. Working off of some messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, they invented the idea that a special star appeared in the Sky when Jesus was born. This, of course, we just reject out of hand.

Some think that what the magi saw in the Sky was a supernova. In case you don’t know what that is, a supernova is a star that, reaching the end of its life span, explodes and produces a super bright object in the Sky. There is some record among Chinese astrology errors that such an event happened right around the time frame in which Jesus was born. It was significant enough that they included it in there star records. This, certainly, would have produced an unusual and unforeseen event in the Sky. It certainly would have grabbed the attention of the magi.

Another possibility is that what was seen in the Sky was a comet. There are certain comments, like Halley’s Comet, that make regular appearances in the nighttime Sky. You can expect that one to two appear about every 75 years. I remember the last time it appeared I was a student at seminary and a lot of people were disappointed that it appeared to be so small and dim in the Sky for that appearance. I remember another one , the Hale Bopp Comet, that appeared in the Sky in 1997 and was quite bright and unique looking. It had two tails. When comets appeared in the Sky and the people weren’t expecting them to, The people would think that it signified that something important had just happened. Many times, a comet was associated with a disaster that was about to take place. However, The Chinese and Koreans also report that there was a comet in the Sky right around the time frame of Jesus birth. If the comet appeared in a certain constellation, a constellation that the Babylonians associated with Israel, the magi might have considered it as a sign that something important happened there.

Another possibility, and one that a lot of people think might be the answer to the the mystery about what the star of Bethlehem was, is that it wasn’t one object in the Sky but three objects that came together. This is the phenomenon that I talked about in the introduction to this sermon. The theory that is gaining greater and greater acceptance is that , right around the time that Jesus was born, the planets Jupiter and Venus not only we’re very close in the Sky, but they also came very close to a bright star in the Sky called regulus. There is a person who has done an awful lot of looking into this theory and his said some interesting things about it. Attorney Frederick Larson examined the biblical account in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2 and found the following nine qualities of Bethlehem’s Star: 1) It signified birth, 2) it signified kingship, 3) it was related to the Jewish nation, 4) and it rose “in the East;” 5) King Herod had not been aware of it; 6) it appeared at an exact time; 7) it endured over time; 8) and, according to Matthew, it was in front of the Magi when they traveled south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, 9) and then it stopped over Bethlehem.

Mr. Larson says that this fits all of those criteria because it is something that the magi could see coming. and because of the significance that they attached to jupiter and venus and to Regulus, They would see this as a significant event in the Sky marking something important that happened on earth. There is a scene in one of my favorite Christmas movies, the nativity story where the magi talk about those three coming together and that it would signify that a great King was about to be born. Mr. Larson also says that after those three came together Jupiter continued in its path across the night Sky until it came to a certain point where it seemed like it stopped for awhile. This would be like the event that Matthew talks about in his gospel where the star stopped over the place where the young child was. In his view, this is exactly the sort of thing that could lead these studiers of the Sky to go on a journey to find out where this significant person would be born.

Finally, we get to the other end of the series of theories about what the Bethlehem star was. There are many believers who believe that this star was not a natural phenomenon . They believe that God simply created a new star that appeared for awhile in the Sky to alert the wise men that something important had happened. There are a couple of groups that have some fanciful views as to what exactly happened in the creation of a supernatural star. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the star was actually created by Satan. The reasoning is that the magi, who were astrologers, were heathen. Therefore Satan used the star to speak to them. Although, why he would bother to tell them about the messiah’s birth is something they don’t explain. The 7th day Adventist believe that the star was not a star at all, but a cluster of Angels who led the wise men to Bethlehem and then flew low over the house where Jesus was when they finally got into Bethlehem.

All of these things are interesting. Maybe you had heard some of them and maybe you hadn’t. However, of course, the most important thing about the Bethlehem star is not what it was exactly but what God was saying through it. This is something that holds true whether the star was a natural phenomenon like a supernova or a comet or the convergence of three heavenly bodies to form a very bright vision in the Sky Or weather it was a supernatural event that God simply spoke into existence. To look at what the star said, we first go back in time about 1500 years before Jesus was born to look at the person and the event that caused one of the most important prophecies about the savior in the Old Testament to be made. This prophecy was not made by a Prophet of Israel or Judah, but by a heathen Prophet named Balaam.

This is something that happened while the people of Israel were on their final approach to the promised land. They were traveling up the East side of the Jordan to the place where they would crossover at Jericho. On the way, they met and defeated a couple of armies. News of these victories reached the ears of the King of Moab, a man by the name of Balak. He did not want to suffer defeat at the hands of this great army coming his way, so he sent for someone with a reputation as a great sear who lived in the region, a man by the name of Balaam. He called upon this man to speak curses over the people of Israel so that Balak could win a victory over them.

Balak had a problem though. God appeared to Balaam a number of different times. You appeared to him in a dream before the King’s messengers even got to him. He also appeared to him in a kind of comical scene where , while Balaam was on his way to King Balak, his donkey saw a vision of the Angel of the Lord before Balaam did. The donkey spoke to Balaam while Balaam was beating him and said hey, don’t you see that Angel there. Each time God spoke to Balaam, the message was the same. He told him that he could not speak any curses against Israel; he could only speak the blessings that God gave him to speak. When Balaam arrived at the place where King Bay lack was quite, he told him this. Bay lack told him to try cursing Israel anyway.

Just as God had informed him before he got there, Balaam was not able to speak any words of cursing. He could only speak words a blessing. He foretold the greatness of the people and the victory that God would give to them. It was during this time when he was speaking blessings about the people of Israel that Balaam made this prophecy: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.”

You see, it wasn’t just the star that brought the magi to Bethlehem. Remember, the people of Judah had been captive in the land of Babylon about 600 years before the birth of Christ. They brought over their sacred writings and the people of Babylon, the scholars at least, became familiar with them. These magi, when they saw the star, remembered this word of prophecy and they knew that this told them that the Messiah had been born. This is what brought them to Bethlehem to worship this little child in the Manger.

This is what the star speaks to us as well. Jesus did not arise in a vacuum. God prepared his way in many different ways all throughout the period of the Old Testament. One of the things, one of the many things, they said would happen was that a special star would announce his birth. This is one of those great reminders that our God keeps all of his promises. Often, when we say that someone is determined to do something, we will say that they move heaven and earth to accomplish it. Throughout the account of Jesus birth, we see how God did just that. We see how he moved in the minds of the rulers of the day so that Jesus parents went to Bethlehem during the time of the census. We see how he moved the heavens in order to announce the birth of the Messiah to people outside of the region of Judah and Israel. We see through his announcement to the magi through this star that this savior was not just meant for the people of Israel, but was meant for all people. He was meant for people all over the world, from the greatest of Kings to the humblest of peasants. Distar announces to us that our savior has been born and that should be the focus that we have when we look at the Bethlehem star. Amen.

 

 

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