And behold, the star they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2:9-11, ESV)
Perhaps they saw the extremely rare conjunction of Venus and Jupiter that occurred about a year before Jesus was born. Perhaps they saw a comet or a supernova. We don’t know exactly what it was, but in the heavens, far beyond human grasp or influence, they saw something that set them on a journey, perhaps from Babylon, west to Jerusalem. The point of course, is not the exact nature of the star, but what it illuminated for those with eyes to see. The wise men had to make a journey, not only in miles traveled, but in faith and perception. They had to travel from knowledge about the Savior, gleaned from a remote star, all the way to knowledge of the Savior, given by a gift of revelation from God and accepted by faith.
After a visit with Herod in Jerusalem, the wise men learned from Jewish scholars that Scripture said the Messiah would be born in the little village of Bethlehem. When they set out, suddenly the star they had seen “when it rose” appeared again and went before them until it hovered over the place where the Child was. This is the part of the story that makes modern astronomers balk. What had been a cosmic appearance observable by thousands, suddenly became a local appearance close enough to point to a particular house and seen only by a few. How could it be that a star in the heavens could both move and then illuminate a house?
We don’t know how it happened. It’s a shocking change, and Matthew wants us to know it; to feel how astounding it is. A remote star became a spotlight on one humble house. In theological terms, the star passed from the category of general revelation seen by everyone to special revelation seen only with eyes of faith. A ball of burning gas in space reappeared as a light that revealed the Son of God on earth.
The wise men’s scientific knowledge got them to Israel. The Old Testament prophets got them to Bethlehem. But none of that was quite sufficient to get them what they wanted most: the sight of God born into the world. Only the work of the Holy Spirit can enable us to see in the baby in Mary’s arms the Son of God come to us. The wise men had made the long journey from awe at a phenomenon of nature to heart knowledge of the Son of God.
This is why when they saw the star over the house in Bethlehem they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. The Greek reads literally, “they rejoiced with joy megalon(very great) joy.” They weren’t just happy. They weren’t just excited. Seeing the star again meant that the God who first placed the star in the heavens had seen them coming and was saying, “I know you’re here. I know your search. I’ve been leading you all along. Welcome home.”
John 17 records Jesus’ prayer for us. He said, And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (17:3) The ultimate treasure we seek is Jesus Christ, the baby of Bethlehem. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us. And the greatest wisdom – the wisdom of the wise men – is to lay our gifts at his feet and worship him. This Advent, follow the steps of the wise. Pray that God’s Holy Spirit will open your heart in a fresh way to meet the Savior. He knows everything about you. He knows your search. He’s been leading you all along. Welcome home.
Come, Lord Jesus! Open my heart to meet you again in your Word. Take out my heart of stone and give me a new heart of flesh, that I might know the great joy of worshiping and serving you. Give me eyes to see what you’re doing in the world today, that I might be useful to your kingdom. Amen.