The Christmas star
To help students understand that in a world of celebrity, the true star of Christmas is Jesus.
by Tim Scott
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To help students understand that, in a world of celebrity, the true star of Christmas is Jesus.
Preparation and materials
- Download the Christmas ‘number 1’ song.
- Cut out from glossy celebrity magazines pictures of well-known celebrities associated with Christmas. These could be the winner of X Factor who is likely to have a Christmas hit, a well-known football player dressed up as Santa Claus or an actor/actress from this year’s top Christmas film.
- Play the likely Christmas number 1 hit (generally the winner of the X Factor!) as students come in.
- Show students the pictures, and then ask them who the biggest celebrities are this Christmas. Ask for a show of hands and then pin up the celebrities with the most votes.
- What does this Christmas mean for you? For most, it is a chance to enjoy lots of food, drink, repeats of Mary Poppins and presents. However, behind this is the Christmas story that happened over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.
It tells of wise, educated men dropping everything to follow an unusually bright star for hundreds of miles, a journey that may have taken them a couple of years to complete.
There has been a lot of speculation about the star that announced the birth of Jesus. What was this star and why did the three (or more) wise men follow it to visit the infant Jesus? Is there a rational explanation or can we dismiss it as yet another inexplicable miracle that just makes a good story?
- The story of the star is told in the Bible in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2. We learn that wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying: ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.’
From Jerusalem they were directed to Bethlehem, as the prophecies that they had read in scrolls predicted that the new king would be born there. These prophecies were made 700 years before Jesus’ birth. The star went before the wise men and came to a stop over the place where the child lay. As wealthy and influential men, they gave the baby Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – gifts for a new king.
- Is there a rational explanation for the star that fascinated those ancient wise men? Some Christians say that the star was a miracle and we can have no hope of understanding it. Others believe that even though God is omnipotent (can do anything), he will do miracles using natural means. Is there a logical or scientific explanation for the star?
Some believe that the wise men saw the massive explosion caused by a dying giant star – called a supernova. Such events are rare – only six have been recorded in our galaxy in the last 1,000 years. This theory was proposed by Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer in his short story The Star. However, this theory does not explain why the wise men, who were keen astronomers, saw the star in the east and decided to come west to Palestine and then followed the star south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
- Did the wise men see a comet? This is the most likely explanation. Throughout history, comets have been recognized as signs of great events about to happen. Although there is no historical record of such a comet, records of the skies at the time are not common. A comet in the right place could easily be seen as a sign of a new king.
Other explanations include that the wise men may have seen the planet Venus which can be extremely bright in the right conditions. However, experienced astronomers in those days would have been able to recognize Venus and would not be surprised by it. Or finally, the wise men may have seen a conjunction of two planets. In the year 7 BC, Jupiter (long seen as a symbol of kingship) twice appeared very close to Saturn in the night sky. Perhaps the first conjunction told the wise men about the event, and the second told them where to go from Jerusalem to find the child?
Time for reflection
Whatever the scientific explanation behind the star, let’s now think about what the story of Christmas star represents for us today. I would suggest three things: hope, joy and guidance.
Hope. When the star led the wise men to the baby Jesus, they were filled with hope that a new king had been born. Their expectations were fulfilled; their quest brought about by the strange cosmic phenomenon had ended. Christians believe that Jesus is the hope of our salvation and has made a way for the world to live again, with people in harmony with God and each other. Like that bright star in the dark night sky, God’s love still shines in the darkness of our broken hearts, discouragements and disappointments.
Joy. The Bible says that ‘when they saw the star, they rejoiced with … great joy’. Is Christmas a joyful time for you normally? Or do you find it stressful? Christians believe that Jesus is the source of a joy that is beyond the temporary happiness gained from receiving presents. It’s a joy that lifts us above our circumstances. Have you ever met anyone who is a joy to be around? When you are with them, your heart is warmed. They seem to brighten up the room with their presence. Jesus did this for those wise men that first Christmas and wants to do that for all who believe in him.
Guidance. The star brought together philosophers and shepherds, rich and poor, intellectual and illiterate around Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus was heaven’s answer to earth’s dilemma. He wants to guide us in our lives if we choose to listen to him and follow him.
Christians believe that Jesus is the true star this Christmas and every Christmas. In the midst of your family celebrations this year, maybe you would like to take time out to be quiet and consider the Christmas star.
Lord, thank you for that Christmas star that led the wise men to find you.
Thank you that you promise bright hope,
enduring joy, greater than any threat or circumstance,
and guidance for every step of the journey.
Help us to be wise by choosing to follow you
and make good choices in our lives;
at school, in our careers, and in our relationships.
Sing or listen to a traditional carol that features the story of the star, perhaps ‘We three Kings’.