What was the Christmas Star?

A Comet, Not a Literal Star

[Matthew 2]
{2:1} And so, when Jesus had been born in Bethlehem of Judah, in the days of king Herod, behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,
{2:2} saying: “Where is he who was born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to adore him.”

{2:7} Then Herod, quietly calling the Magi, diligently learned from them the time when the star appeared to them.
{2:8} And sending them into Bethlehem, he said: “Go and diligently ask questions about the boy. And when you have found him, report back to me, so that I, too, may come and adore him.”
{2:9} And when they had heard the king, they went away. And behold, the star that they had seen in the east went before them, even until, arriving, it stood still above the place where the child was.
{2:10} Then, seeing the star, they were gladdened by a very great joy.

In attempting to determine the year of Christ’s Birth, many scholars have examined astronomical evidence in search of the Christmas Star. Various natural phenomena have been considered as possible explanations for the star, including comets, supernovae, and the conjunction of two planets.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich gives a detailed description of the Christmas Star. She describes the star as having a tail: “…always following the star, whose long tail reaches down to earth.”

“The star which led them was really like a round ball with light streaming out of it as from a mouth. It always seemed to me as if this ball, which was as it were swinging on a shaft of light, was guided by the hand of a supernatural being. In the daytime I saw a light brighter than daylight going before them.” (Emmerich, The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, p. 233-234)

She repeatedly describes the Christmas Star as one would describe a comet. These descriptions rule out the idea that the Christmas Star could have been a conjunction of planets or a supernova. Comets have long tails, but supernovae and planets do not. However, there is more to the Christmas Star than can be attributed to any mere comet.

Natural, Yet Supernatural

“…And behold, the star that they had seen in the east went before them, even until, arriving, it stood still above the place where the child was.” (Mt 2:9).

Sacred Scripture clearly describes a supernatural aspect to the Christmas Star. Comets, stars, supernovae, and the conjunction of planets do not both move across the sky and then stop above one small place on earth. If the event was merely a natural phenomenon, the wise men would not have been able to find the exact location of the Christ Child, in a cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Thus, if the Christmas Star was a comet, it was not merely a comet. It was guided by the hand of God, appearing at a time chosen by God, and more. Though a comet appeared in the heavens as a sign of the Birth of Christ, there was a supernatural light which also appeared and which guided the three wise men (the Magi).

Blessed Anne Catherine testifies to this supernatural aspect of the Christmas Star. “The star which went before them was not the comet, but a shining brilliance borne by an angel. By day they followed the angel.” It is possible for a comet to be bright enough, and close enough to the earth, so that it would be visible even in the daytime. But this would not provide enough information for the Magi to navigate to a precise location within Israel and within the area of Bethlehem. So many miracles happened during the Ministry of Jesus Christ, is it so hard to believe that the Christmas Star could have a miraculous aspect? The three kings were able to find the exact place of the Birth of Jesus Christ by this miraculous sign.

One Becomes Two

According to Blessed Anne Catherine, when Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, the three wise men saw the Christmas Star split in two, forming an image which they interpreted as a picture of a virgin and her child. She describes what the three wise men saw in this heavenly sign. “They were on a pyramid-shaped tower looking through long tubes at the Star of Jacob, which had a tail. The star split asunder before their eyes, and I saw a great shining virgin appear therein, before whom a radiant child hovered in the air.”

The splitting of the comet, the Christmas Star, was an actual event seen in the sky which symbolized the Birth of Jesus Christ. Comets do split into pieces in nature, as has been seen in recent years with the Shoemaker-Levy comet, which split into several pieces before colliding with Jupiter. However, the splitting of the Christmas Star was an act of God signifying the Birth of the Savior, not a mere coincidence of nature.

A Natural Comet with Supernatural Aspects

The Christmas Star was most likely not an actual star, but a comet with supernatural aspects, that is, a comet which was accompanied by a supernatural light and guided by God. Only a supernatural event could completely explain all of the details about the Christmas Star given in Sacred Scripture and in the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich.

by Ron Conte, excerpted from my book: Important Dates in the Lives of Jesus and Mary

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