The Star of Bethlehem

Every year we listen to a host of theories about the Star of Bethlehem. The story of the star appears only in Matthew’s Gospel, in one of the two Infancy Narratives in the gospels. The other is in the Gospel of Luke. Both of these stories are wonderful tales which are really trying to tell Christians about the adult, risen Christ — according to Christians. These stories are not at all about what really happened. Phil Plait does an excellent job dealing with what may or may not have really happened, and he’s probably right that the tale grew in the telling.

There were no birth certificates. The birth of Christ wasn’t even celebrated in early Christianity. The celebration grew up gradually throughout the Roman Empire, really only taking root after Christianity became a legal religion in 313 C.E. Christians gradually converted the old Roman feast of Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) to a celebration of the birth of the Christ. While the Northern Hemisphere was at it’s darkest, Christians began to celebrate the birth of the Light of the World. The celebration was symbolic from the start, and the Gospel writers were quite comfortable using symbolism to introduce a wider audience to the Risen Christ by telling a rich story of His birth. Did they take some liberties? No doubt.

Theology is my day job. See, some Liberals do appreciate religion.

Why am I giving space here about the famous Star? Call it a preemptive strike against the Christian radicals as we move further into the election season. We are still in the middle of a Holiday Season, and have already endured strange and bizarre claims that there continues to be a “War on Christmas.” We can anticipate equally weird and bizarre claims as we move forward to the 2008 Presidential Election.

What will the weird right have in store for us? How will they work to create God in their image? In anticipation of all of the unholy rhetoric about to spew forth from the conservatives, I can’t help thinking of Yeats:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Simple emotion may sway simple people. The weird right has used simplistic and hate-filled quasi-religious arguments before to sway the masses. Whatever they come up over the next 11 months, we must hold them to facts — and science. Otherwise, we haven’t got a prayer.