No ordinary star lit the sky the night Jesus was born.
The wise men knew it. They followed the star some 1,000 miles over rough terrain from Babylon to Jerusalem carrying gifts for a king: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
On Dec. 21, more than 2,000 years later, something special happened in the night sky.
The two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, aligned to create what some called the Christmas star or the star of Bethlehem. It was a stunning light in the night sky.
The planets had not aligned so closely since the Middle Ages some 800 years ago.
No one knows for sure how the Bethlehem star looked to the wise men. No one knows much about them. Were they astrologers or early astronomers who studied the stars? Did they look like kings with flowing robes and beards? Did they ride camels? Were there three or many? What did they know about Jesus?
We do know what they saw was so intriguing that they risked the journey to worship a newborn king.
Why were these foreigners who likely were from Babylon included in that first Christmas? No one knows for sure, but it may be because Jesus came for everyone. They may have seen a story in the stars told by the constellation Leo the Lion, the planet Venus, Jupiter and the star Regulus.
In Babylon, the lion represented Israel, Venus symbolized motherhood, Jupiter stood for fatherhood or kingship and Regulus symbolized royalty. The message in the sky was clear to them: A king has been born in Israel.
Legal professor Rick Larson studied the Bethlehem star for eight years, matching events in the Bible with a computer program called Starry Night that lets people view the night sky at any specific time past, present or future.
Through years of research, Larson believes that the Magi saw Jupiter, which is called the King Planet, creating a halo effect to crown Regulus, a star that is often called the King Star.
Jupiter then continued on its path through the sky until it moved next to Venus in the western sky. To someone watching from earth, the two planets close together would have created a spectacular light. It could be true, or it could be that God created a spectacular star as part of His plan.
It was not the only incredible happening that first Christmas. More than 300 Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled that night. A king born in a barn. Angels singing to shepherds on the hillsides. Wise men following the star. An unlikely cast of characters worshiping Jesus, the newborn King.
Larson believed the Bethlehem star signified birth, kingship, had a connection with Israel, rose in the East, appeared at a precise time, was never noticed by Herod, endured over time and went ahead of the Magi as they traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
He also believes God is in the details.
“Our solar system is like a clock,” he said. “It is mathematically correct. If the star is part of that incredible, natural order, then from the moment God flung the universe into existence, He knew when He would enter the human race.”
We do know the Bethlehem star announced Immanuel, God with us. The star led people to Jesus.
It’s been a tough year. Maybe now more than ever we need a reminder that God has not changed. He is still Immanuel, God with us. No pandemic, no loss, no uncertainty or fear can take that away.