Greeting to all and welcome new friends to the EastWing.
The sun had not yet risen on the Christmas Morning and the emails brought admonishment for the use of “MERRY CHRISTMAS”.
In no short order I was told the importance of being all inclusive in respecting the “rights” of others when it comes to the use of offensive language such as Merry Christmas. It was recommended that I pursue some type of sensitivity training that will allow me to better communicate with all friends of the EastWing. It was pointed out that as the “Leader of the Band” at the EastWing, my role is to put aside my personal antiquated opinions and strive to communicate on a more diverse level with those EastWing friends who do have a more modern way of viewing the world.
First of all, for those over 1,000 emails that simply said MERRY CHRISTMAS. I thank you one and all. For those 46 emails that has an issue with MERRY CHRISTMAS, tuff. It always amazes me that people living in a society where Merry Christmas has been the main greeting for the holiday for longer than we’ve been a country, and now along comes some folks who think they’ve invented smart. They have not.
For many, refusing to say Merry Christmas can get one in a world of hurt. Just ask the feller who was thrown off the plane in Houston TX when he made a big deal about when one of the flight attendants said Merry Christmas to him. The Captain tried to calm him down, to no avail. As he was lead from the plane by security people, all passengers stood and cheered. They should have all shouted MERRY CHRISTMAS.
As a star gazer I’m forever being asked what I know about the Star of Bethlehem. First of all, I didn’t see it, only heard about the star. With that being said, I do know a little about that star.
The Star of Bethlehem remains a mystery to both astronomers and historians. There are many contributing factors, including the uncertainty of the actual date of Christ’s birth and the terminology used to describe celestial happenings more than 20 centuries ago. For instance, any celestial object bright enough to attract attention was apt to be called a star. Therefore, the object we seek may not have even been a star.
Four theories have been advanced to explain the star. One is that it was an unusually bright meteor or fireball streaking toward the horizon. But such fiery streaks only last for several seconds at most; hardly long enough to lead the Wise Men halfway across the Orient to Bethlehem. Although certainly it would have been quite an interesting camel ride! Even better than Hump Day.
Another theory suggests that the star might have been a bright comet. But we must say no to that as well because comets were considered to omens of evil. They were considered to presage famine, flood, an epidemic or some other disaster.
Not so easily dismissed is a nova or supernova outburst; dying stars having a final fling of glory before descending the long road to ultimate extinction. The appearance of a very bright nova would certainly attract the attention of sky conscious people. Then, after several weeks or months of such prominence, it slowly fades back into the night sky. In the case of a supernova, a massive star literally blows itself apart, putting forth an energy output equivalent to a hundred billion stars or more. It can suddenly blaze forth in the night sky with a brilliance rivaling Jupiter or even Venus; perhaps even be glimpsed in broad daylight. Truly a celestial announcement worthy of the birth of the King of Kings.
Unfortunately, ancient Chinese records do not show any such bright nova or supernova appearing in the sky some 2,000 years ago. These ancient Chinese records of the night sky are extremely accurate in all other respects. So when looking for that very bright supernova back then, if the Chinese say not there, I believe ‘em.
That only leaves the planets. A conjunction of two or more planets would undoubtedly be watched with great interest by the Wise Men and might have been interpreted by them as a sign in the heavens. In February of 6 B.C., Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars formed a triangular configuration very low in the western twilight sky soon after sunset. If you have visited a planetarium for the traditional Christmas show, you may have experienced the thrill of seeing these worlds approach each other as the projector races back in time to recreate this celestial picture.
Taken literally, however, the account of the star in the book of St. Matthew actually calls for two “stars.” One to start the Wise Men on their long journey, the other appearing when they arrived in Bethlehem. Perhaps the signal for their star came on August 12, 3 B.C. with the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter rising in the east at dawn and appearing just 12 minutes of arc apart. Planets this close are very striking, if they do not differ too much in brightness.
Interestingly, in the book The Bible as History (Bantam 1983) by Werner Keller, it is noted that in the original Greek the words used for “in the east” are a technical term meaning “heliacal rising” or an observation in the eastern sky before sunrise, nicely explaining the ambiguous phrase in St. Matthew.
Venus then disappeared into the solar glare, but Jupiter remained in the sky for the next 10 months, accompanying the Wise Men on their westward journey until on June 17, 2 B.C. another, even more outstanding conjunction with Venus took place, this time in the western sky after sunset. At sundown only the sharpest of eyes might have split them and two hours later at minimum separation they were just 36 arc seconds or 0.01° apart. The two planets would have appeared to merge their light into a single brilliant beacon; an extraordinarily rare occurrence! And since the Wise Men were traveling westward, one could say that the “star in the east” went (as St. Matthew noted) “before them.”
While I believe that these two close conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter offer the most plausible astronomical explanation for the Star, there are problems with it, since each occurred after the generally accepted date for the death of King Herod (April 4 B.C.), who met with the Wise Men before they proceeded to Bethlehem. Scholars who reject as mythical the story of Herod and favor a later date for Christ’s birth are inclined to regard the star as a myth too.
Or perhaps it was after all, truly a miracle star? A celestial apparition unique in the history of man. Astronomy has taken the search for the origin of the Star of Bethlehem as far as it can go. The final decision is yours to make.
Now here at the EastWing, we’ve always believed in miracles.
Stay safe in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From The EastWing, Jumping On Merry Christmas, Kicking A Butt Off An Airplane Texas Style, A Star Story Named Bethlehem
I wish you well,