Legislative Column for Dec. 18, 2020
If you’ve walked outside just after sunset in recent days and looked to the southwest, you may have noticed two bright objects in the night sky. Saturn and Jupiter appear just above the horizon and move closer together each day. On the night of the winter solstice, Dec. 21, these two planets are expected to be so closely aligned they could appear as a single bright object. The “great conjunction” of 2020 will be the nearest apparent alignment of Jupiter and Saturn since 1623, nearly 400 years ago. Astronomers say you’d have to travel back to the year 1226 for viewing conditions to rival this year’s night show.
The appearance of a bright object in the night sky so near to Christmas naturally brings to mind the star that guided the Magi to the birthplace of Jesus. In fact, the 2020 conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is being called “the Christmas star.”
The book of Matthew contains the only mention of a bright star coinciding with the birth of Christ: “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” Matthew says the Magi traveled to Bethlehem, bearing gifts for the newborn king. “And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”
Astronomers and religious scholars alike have attempted to explain the guiding light described in the Gospel story. Some have suggested the wise men may have seen a comet. Others think an exploding supernova was the source of the light. Just as likely is the “star” was a planetary conjunction, similar to the one occurring this month. I’m no astronomer, but this year, I’m going with that explanation.
Whatever it was, the Christmas star has become one of the most enduring and meaningful symbols of the holiday season. “Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.” The lyrics of the familiar carol “We Three Kings” evoke the wonder, majesty and magic of the Christmas story.
A repeat of such a sign could not come at a better moment. Let’s be honest, it’s been a tough year, and we could use some hope. Is there anything that lifts our spirits and fills us with cheer like Christmas?
The Advent season has always been a time for optimism, especially for those of us who look to Jesus for our salvation. The birth of a baby who would save the world from sin is not a mere historical event for Christians. It is a promise of a new and better way – not just in the world, but in our own lives. At that moment, with a baby lying in a manger and a bright star in the heavens, everything changed. Likewise, our world changes when Christ is born in us.
Soon it will be a new year. I won’t go so far as to declare the planetary convergence to be an omen, but I’d like to believe it portends good things to come. If nothing else, this astronomical curiosity may allow us to pause long enough to marvel at the world our God has made, and perhaps take stock of all the good in our lives. Our faith tells us no matter how bad things might appear, we can trust in God and hope for a brighter tomorrow.
I’m writing this report before the solstice actually occurs, so I’m taking it on faith the night sky will deliver as promised. My intention is to walk out in my fields on the longest night of the year and gaze at the Christmas star. I hope for clear skies, but I’ll look to the heavens with confidence just the same. No matter how the stars appear, I’ll know that Christ is born.
Let’s all take comfort in the promise of Christmas, and the miracle of Christ’s birth. Merry Christmas everyone, and a happy New Year.
It has been my great honor to represent the citizens of the 33rd Senatorial District. Although the Legislature has adjourned for 2020, I remain your senator until the new General Assembly is sworn in on Jan 6, 2021. If there’s anything I can do to assist you, please feel free to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.