We Have Seen His Star in the East

20 Dec

I have been thinking a great deal on the many prophecies that have been given and recorded in the scriptures; particularly those that deal with the last days. So I have decided to write some short posts addressing a few of these prophecies. Some have been fulfilled, some are in the process of being fulfilled, and some we are still waiting to see. I will draw from all the standard works, and in each post I will address only one prophesy.

This being the Christmas season I have been thinking a great deal on the Nativity story that is recorded in Luke 2 and Matthew 2. This year I was able to direct a pageant of this story for my ward, and it went over fairly well. But it got me thinking of the vary elements and the iconic symbols of the birth of Christ. I would say that the most famous is the star. Many place stars on their trees, or hang them around the house. A Nativity scene is rarely complete without one. The star features prominently in many Christmas hymns. Such an iconic image should have a glorious origin.

Yet, when you look through the Bible there is only one reference to it. In Matthew chapter two, when the Wisemen come, they declare “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” Later, when Herod spoke to the wisemen he “inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.”

There is no other reference to a star anywhere in the Bible. There is no prophecy of a star in the Old Testament, and Luke doesn’t mention a star in his account. In Matthew the Wisemen make an almost passing reference to it, and never speak of it again. This is especially surprising when one considers that Matthew took great care to point out when Christ fulfilled prophecies. In fact, there are two times in chapter two that Matthew does just this (see verses 15 and 23).

So how did the star become such a vital part of the story? I am not going to analyze the historical traditions of Christmas to try and trace this. Rather, as a member of the LDS church, I will point to where there is a prophecy of a new star. That prophecy comes from the Book of Mormon. When Samuel the Lamanite prophesied to the Nephites of the coming of Christ he declared

And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name…And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you.” (Helaman 14: 2, 5)

This is the only prophecy of a new star arising at the birth of Christ, and it was given by a prophet on the other side of the world. Yet, from the Book of Matthew it is clear that others knew this star would arise. The wisemen not only saw the star but recognized it for what it was. When they saw it they knew Christ had been born and immediately set out to find him.

Now, the tradition is that they followed the star to where Christ was, yet this is not indicated by the passage in Matthew. They only said they saw it. Why did they go to Jerusalem and ask where Christ was born if they could follow the star strait to him? Also, if it was still in the sky why did Herod ask when it appeared? Finally consider how long it would have taken the wisemen to reach Jerusalem. Even if they left the day the star appear the star would have to have been in the sky for quite awhile. We know they did not arrive on the day of Christ’s birth because they visited Mary and Jesus in a house, not in a stable. It is also reasonable to conclude that it took them close to two years, as Herod had all the male children from two years and under killed in an attempt to kill Christ.

The account seems to indicate that it had appeared the night Christ was born and then had left, which is what occurred in the Book of Mormon. It also indicates that the Wisemen started their journey when they saw it, but but were unable to follow it, and so traveled to the Capital of Jerusalem and then asked directions.

The traditions surrounding the most iconic symbol of Christmas do not truly reflect the scriptural account, and it is to scripture outside the Bible that one must go for a full understanding of its significance.

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