On Wednesday morning I had to rise early and it was still dark. Well, it was early for me, whereas many of you will always be up around 6.0 am I expect. I don’t like getting up early, particularly in the winter but as I drew back the curtains downstairs, in an instant all the reluctance at having to get up early vanished. It was made to vanish by the glorious spectacle in the sky . The air was clear and cloudless and the sun just about to peep over the horizon but that was not the glow I saw. There were three brightly shining planets; Venus, Mars and Jupiter quite high in the East South East sky. A fist’s distance below them was little Mercury trying to keep up with the splendour of the other three but not quite managing it,
The sheer beauty of the lights would have changed any demeanour to awe. Venus outshone everything as usual and was this month up in front of the Sun instead of following it down the sunset path which happened a few months ago. The light from these three orbs was so great that even the every reaching rays of the sun streaking over the horizon did not eclipse their brightness,
It was so wonderful that even my wife who gets a little depressed for a little while on dark mornings became joyous and excited. Seeing me first thing in the morning sans clothing is maybe not the most refreshing of images so perhaps she can be excused the black dog which sometimes surrounds her on dark Winter mornings. But this was something unexpected; something fortuitous, an unearned bonus. I have always thought that life is just as full of many unexpected joys as sorrows.
Seeing these planets together like that reminded me about the Nativity account and what the Wise Men, or Magi, said when they approached King Herod. They said “We saw his star in the East”. Now, I know it’s only October and for most people it is far too early to be mentioning the ‘C’ word but many people have often wondered exactly what type of star appeared that first Christmas. There have been theories that it was a comet, a supernova or a conjunction of certain planets, usually Saturn and Jupiter. I have always favoured that it was the conjunction or an alignment of planets and seeing this example in the early morning sky you could quite understand why the Magi who were scientists as well as astrologers, would come to the conclusion that something special was happening. Also, I always understood the phrase “We saw his star in the East” to mean that they had actually witnessed the event whilst they were in East and then travelled west to Bethlehem. But having seen the planets this morning, I wonder whether in fact they literally meant that the arrangement of planets was seen in the eastern morning sky.
A grouping of three planets inside a circle having a 5-degree diameter on the sky’s dome is known as a planetary trio. Venus, Jupiter and Mars will form a planetary trio in the east before dawn from about October 24 to around October 29. The best viewing of the three together will be on October 26. The significance of a trio should be fairly obvious to Christians, who believe in the Holy Trinity, the Three in One concept of God. Therefore, a similar arrangement of stars or planets 2000 years ago would not really be a surprise if that was the ‘Star’ that the Magi saw.
There is also a connection with the ancient Messianic Star prophecy which can be read in the book of Numbers 24:17. “I shall see him but not now: I shall behold him but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob and a sceptre will rise out of Israel and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Seth”. Naturally, the Jewish anticipated Messiah is a different understanding from the Christian one.
Of course, none of this is really important as God would be perfectly capable of arranging a supernatural display in the sky to herald the birth of his son, if He so wanted.
Also, the modern day interest in astrology often uses the example of the Magi in the Gospels to confirm that astrology is real. However, the Magi were not really astrologers in the sense that we think of them today but more astronomers and scientists. There were two types of Magi. There were those who resided in Babylon and who were really just conjurers and professional magicians, which word, of course, is derived from the word Magi. The other type of Magi were those who resided in Persepolis and these men were far more scientific and studied the stars in the way that astronomers do. It was these latter Magi which would have visited the stable in Bethlehem. They would undoubtedly have been believers in Zoroaster, or Zarathustra as he is also known. He was an Iranian prophet who lived around 600 years before the birth of Christ and was a legendary figure often connected with magical practices and occult knowledge. His connection with Christianity and Judaism is that he believed and founded a monotheistic religion based on one God, which was in contrast to the polytheism abounding at that time.
I intend writing further about the Magi in the next few weeks as my Gold of the Magi series of three novels should be then published on Amazon in early November. In the meantime, get up early one clear morning, just before sunrise, and take a look at something very possibly similar to what the Magi saw 2000 years ago. It might just make your day.
(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)