I have always been fascinated by stars. Some of my earliest memories are of looking up at all the stars in the night sky–out in the yard, at camp, from the back seat of the car, or from my bedroom window.
I think about stars at Christmastime because I wonder what kind of star the wise men saw. Was it a supernatural star that suddenly appeared in the heavens? Or was it some other celestial phenomenon, like a comet, a supernova, or a meteor shower? I am inclined to think that it was several conjunctions of the planet Jupiter (see the Window on the World from December 23, 2001, entitled “Star of Bethlehem”), but whatever it was, I wish I could have seen it.
The wise men may have seen the greatest star, but there is no need to envy them. There is always something special for us to see, too, if only we know how to look.
In recent years we Rykens have become stargazers in the most amateur sort of way. We can’t do it here in the city, where we’re lucky to see more than a dozen stars on a moonless night, but we do it whenever we go on vacation. When we go to the eastern shore of the Chesapeake or the eastern slope of the Rockies, we take our star guides, our binoculars, and a flashlight covered with a red sock so we can study our maps without blinding our eyes.
There have been some special moments: seeing the Hale-Bopp comet smudged across the sky, just over the tree line; sitting lakeside on a dock in the north woods, watching a meteor go screaming across the star-lit sky; and the nights when we could identify fourteen, fifteen, maybe even eighteen constellations. There have been some humorous moments, too, like the time little Kirsten went inside because she was scared of “the Great Bear,” or the time Lisa and I lay down on a golf course, only to discover a few minutes later that we were right next to a very large sprinkler.
As we have craned our necks to see the stars, we have learned that what the Bible says is true: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19:1). The stars do their share of the declaring. They show us God’s power, beauty and grace. Their chief end is to glorify God. As the Psalmist said, “Praise him, all you shining stars” (Ps. 148:3).
There are almost seventy references to stars in the Bible, starting with the morning stars that sang at the dawn of creation (Job 38:7). In the beginning God put the stars in their places (Jer. 31:35), setting them “in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern… the night, and to separate the light from darkness” (Gen. 1:17-18a; cf. Ps. 136:9). God also made the stars to serve as an illustration of his grace. When he took Abraham out to stargaze, he said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.” And then he said, “So shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:5; cf. 22:17). This promise referred not simply to the number of God’s people, but also to their beauty. Daniel prophesied that in the resurrection, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). The people of God are like the stars in the heavens.
Because the stars are the work of God’s fingers (Ps. 8:3), they display his divine artistry. They also show his providence. God not only made the stars, but also keeps them under his watchful care: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Ps. 147:4). As they shine, the stars show us something of God’s glory (1 Cor. 15:41). And they testify to his transcendence. “See the highest stars,” said Eliphaz, with a sense of awe, “how lofty they are!” (Job 22:12).
I take satisfaction in learning to identify the constellations. Some of them are mentioned in the Bible, especially in the book of Job, who seems to have been something of an amateur astronomer. In his catalogue of the wonders of creation, Job mentions Orion, Ursa Major, and the Pleiades (Job 38:32; cf. 9:9). God made these beautiful constellations, and knowing them by name is part of our praise.
People who practice astrology are looking for something else in the stars. They are trying to figure out the future. Sometimes they worship the stars. There are even some preachers who practice what they call biblical astrology, in which the signs of the Zodiac are used to teach the gospel. But that is not why the stars are there, and the Bible condemns the practice of astrology (e.g. Deut. 4:19).
The stars do not tell us the future; however, they do point us to the God who does know the future. Stars figure prominently in what the Bible says about the end times. When this world comes to an end, the stars and their constellations will stop showing their light (Is. 13:10; cf. Joel 2:10). Indeed, they will “fall from the sky” (Matt. 24:29; cf. Rev. 6:13). But there will still be a star for us, because Jesus has promised to give us “the morning star” (Rev. 2:28; cf. 2 Pet. 1:19) of eternal life with him. Indeed, Jesus is the star, for the Bible describes him as a “star out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17), “the bright Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16; referring, of course, to Venus).
These are some of the many things that the stars have to teach us, if only we know how to look. They declare the power, the beauty and the grace of God. And as we look to the heavens, they remind us that once there was a star that said, “Christ is born!”
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