Why Did the Star Disappear?
by Rev. B. David Holm
One part of the wonderful well loved Christmas story - of the Lord's being born on earth in the city of Bethlehem - is about the gift-bearing Wise Men being led to the house where the baby Lord was to be found.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the second chapter, we are told of the Wise Men coming to Jerusalem saying, "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. " (verse 2) From this many have assumed that the star they saw was to the east of them. But if it had been and they followed it they would have traveled away from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, for the country in which they lived was to the east of Palestine. They were in the east when they saw the star and, knowing what its appearance meant, they traveled westward toward Jerusalem. Indeed the Gospel story does not say that they followed the star in going to Jerusalem, yet in the spiritual sense the star was in the east. For we are told in the Writings of the New Church that the east, which on our earth is where the sun rises and gives its first light of day, in the Spiritual World is where the angels see the Lord as their light-giving Sun. Since the star the Wise Men saw was the sign of the Lord's birth, it was spiritually in the east and, since they traveled to find the Lord and to give Him their precious gifts, spiritually they were going eastward even though their journey in the natural world led them to the west.
As they journeyed maybe the Wise Men continued to see the star, but maybe not. We are not told. Certainly when they came to Jerusalem they no longer saw it. Why else would they have asked "Where is He that is born King of the Jews ?"; and why else would they have had to wait until Herod had consulted the chief priests and the scribes who had studied the prophecies of the Word and could tell him what he wanted to know, to learn from Herod that the one they sought was to be found in Bethlehem. It was after they had set out from Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem that we are told they once again saw the star and rejoiced exceedingly. And the star then stood over the house where the Lord was and there the Wise Men found Him.
Why had the star disappeared? Perhaps it was because Jerusalem was where people were so busy about other things that they no longer gave much thought to the Lord and to His Word. But perhaps also it was because once the Wise Men had seen the star, in the east, and understood its meaning, they assumed that the Lord would be born in the royal palace of the Jews in Jerusalem. And so they were in fact following their own ideas. It was not until after they started doing what the Word said that they once more saw the star which led them to find the Lord and to offer Him their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Then why are they called the Wise Men ? For one thing those who lived in the east country were famous for their wisdom and so from ancient times the east became a symbol of wisdom and those who dwelt there were called wisemen. Another reason is, as many think, that the particular men who saw the star were called wise because they spent a great deal of their time studying their ancient writings in which was Balaam's prophecy which clearly meant that a star would be seen when a great king was born in Judah. But then there is no doubt that there were others in that country who also studied those ancient writings and knew that prophecy. The wisdom of the Wise Men of the Christmas story lay in their being able to see the star and to understand its meaning while the others could not.
The star they saw was no doubt actually that heavenly society - that angelic host as it is said in the Gospel of Luke which appeared to the shepherds, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace goodwill towards men," (2: verses 13 and 14) after the angels had announced to the shepherds that the Lord had been born in Bethlehem, the city of David. For the Writings tell us that at a distance angelic societies are seen as stars. We are also told that by stars are meant knowledges of truth from the Word.
Each of us too may become like the Wise Men of old. First we must learn the wonderful stories of the Word. But we must not stop there, or else we will be like those long ago who also knew well about the prophecy of the special star that would be a signal of the Lord's birth on earth but who did not see it when He was born. To be like the Wise Men we must go on from learning the stories to trying to see the truths the Lord is making known in those stories. Insofar as we do so we will come to see those truths, and if we let them guide our thoughts and our lives, they will be like wonderful stars that will lead us into the presence of the Lord Himself. And so they make it possible for us to offer Him those most precious gifts we can give - the gold of our love of the Lord, the sweet incense of our faith and trust in Him, and the healing ointment of obedience to Him.
-New Church Home 1975;40:61-62