The Bethlehem Star

The Bethlehem Star
Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

A  sermon delivered on Epiphany Sunday 2019 on the Bethlehem Star by Mary Rathbone. Readings:  Isaiah 60.1-6Ephesians 3.1-12 and Matthew 2.1-12

Two years ago a group of ladies from our church visited the Bayfordbury Planetarium in Hertford.  It was a truly amazing experience.

Amongst other things, we were introduced to the science of the Bethlehem Star. A young Christian astronomy student explained what might have happened in the night sky 2000 years ago to cause the Magi to travel all the way to Bethlehem. 

The visit to the planetarium really opened my eyes, and I wanted to learn more. So I searched the internet, bought specialist books and DVDs. I even consulted scientists at the local university to learn more.

I discovered there are several entirely plausible astronomical explanations for the star spoken of in Matthew’s gospel, and I wrote about it in our parish magazine.

It would be wonderful to be able to add other amazing details to this, but I am afraid that I have nothing more to add.

Because the more I discovered, the more overwhelmed I was with the scope and vastness of God’s creation in space and outer space, compared to our life here on Earth.

I could see how the planets & stars, constellations & conjunctions were all perfectly designed and aligned in the palm of God’s hand.

Their courses all mapped out when the Universe was created, formed, shaped, and eventually set into motion in God’s own time.  

Jesus is the Star of Bethlehem

But something DID come to me during my research.  I came to realise that; it is not necessary for us to know the precise scientific details of how the Bethlehem Star appeared.

Because it is Jesus who is the real ‘star’ of Bethlehem. He was the motivation for the Magi’s long journey and the reason for their rejoicing.

This is what St John tells us in his Gospel. He said Jesus was the light of all people, and that Jesus was The true light, which enlightens everyone. John 1:8-10

Also, it was Jesus, the Light of the World, who came to deliver us from the darkness foretold in the reading from Isaiah heard this morning. Isaiah 60:1-6  

Today, the Bethlehem Star, whatever it was, has now been and long since gone. But the light of Christ still dwells amongst us, it is as real today as it was then. 

So, if Christmas is about what God has given us – then Epiphany is about what we can give back to God. It’s about our response to the gift we have been given in Jesus the Morning Star.

The Wise Men

The Wise Men offered Jesus the gift of gold, the king of metals. A crowning gift for Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And Frankincense, used in temple worship and sacrifices to build a bridge between man and God. This was a divine gift for Jesus our Great High Priest.

The final gift of Myrrh was an oil used to embalm the bodies of the dead. Jesus came into the world to live for us, but also to ultimately die for us. So Myrrh was a heavenly gift for Jesus, Saviour of our souls.

As the Magi travelled all those miles westward, guided by a star, in the hope of finding Jesus. So we too travel today in the hope of receiving the boundless riches, St Paul spoke of, in his letter to the Ephesians and offered to us through the birth of Christ.  Ephesians 3:1-12 

The Light of Christ

Each one of us here this morning must have seen the light at some point in our lives.

Perhaps it was shown to us by our parents, or maybe we caught sight of it later in life.

Sometimes we glimpse the star and then lose sight of it and get lost – for weeks, months or years even. 

But by instinct and faith, we know that the star is still there. By instinct we know it will lead us to somewhere really wonderful, to Christ himself.  

Coming here on Sunday offers us an opportunity to catch glimpses of the light in the beauty of the gospel, prayers and music – in the friendship and fellowship of the congregation and clergy.

Coming here on Sundays offers an opportunity to keep the light shining and rise above everyday issues.

Her Majesty The Queen in her 2019 Christmas Day speech said.  As we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.

This made me wonder what small steps we could take in faith to draw closer to the light of Christ and what would he like us to do for him?

In the Bleak Mid Winter

The final verse of this hymn gave me the answer:  

What can I give him, Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man I would do my part,
Yet what can I give Him  —  I can give him my heart.

Extract from a poem written by Christina Rossetti

That’s what we can give Jesus, our heart, our love.

How do we Give Him our Heart?

Today, we telephone, text and email, those dear to our hearts often, every day even.  We might pay them regular visits to let them know how much we care about them.

Unfortunately, Jesus has not left a telephone number or email address for us to make an instant connection with him – but he has left us with the power of prayer.  And we can visit him as often as we like in his earthly house – right here in church – where we all gather to give Him our hearts on Sunday mornings – and meet Him in the Holy Eucharist. 

Think about this though, Jesus said, where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there too.  So perhaps a small step forward can be taken by also joining us in a mid-week service – where small groups connect again with Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, giving him our hearts. 

Also, Jesus would hear your prayers too if you prayed quietly at home during the week.  A simple way of doing this is to recite the Lord’s prayer and think of someone you know who needs the help of Jesus our Great High Priest.

Because taking small steps to draw closer to Jesus, the Saviour of our souls, in regular prayer and worship, will sustain us on our long journey home, all the days of our lives. 

Until finally, at last the day will dawn and Christ, the morning star, will shine in our hearts.

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