On this day (21st December) in 2020, the two largest planets in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, aligned so closely to one another in the sky that they appeared to be fused into a single point of light.
Although the trajectories of these planets come close to one another every twenty years or so, to be aligned within a tenth of a degree is something that hasn’t been seen for at least 400 years, and probably longer. Although it may possibly have been visible in 1623, the last time this event is believed to have actually been witnessed by human observers was in the year 1226, on a certain day before dawn, which afforded about ninety minutes to see it before the sun rose.
Even more remarkably, there also has been speculation among scholars that the conjunction of these planets formed the very Star of Bethlehem quoted in today’s reading that inspired the Magi on their journey. A possible date can be calculated which falls close to the year of Jesus’ birth.
We can’t say for sure – and sadly the weather a year ago was typically British forecast, i.e. cloudy – so we Brits didn’t get a glimpse. But even so, isn’t it amazing that it’s still possible to witness an astrological phenomenon which connects us directly to the story of Jesus’ birth!
We’ll never know this side of heaven; but what we do know is that this phenomenon – whatever it was – so profoundly moved our intrepid travellers that they were willing to stake their time and reputations on following it. And this despite it relating to a ‘foreign’ religion in a faraway country.
I sometimes hear people bemoan the diversity of belief in Britain today. I wonder if rather we should celebrate the fact that many more people around us are spiritual searchers, hungry to connect with eternity. They may sometimes look for it in unusual places, to say the least. But, like the Magi, our response is surely to point all seekers towards the real Way, Truth and Life.
God honoured the spiritual hunger of Persian astrologers, and marvellously brought them into his story. And so should we. Perhaps you consider yourself a seeker in a similar way. Or perhaps you are confident in your beliefs. Either way, God loves those who seek after him. He longs for all of us to become part of his story. Wise men and wise women still follow the star towards Jesus.