The creation account gives surprisingly little attention to the stars. It tells us that on the fourth day God made lights and placed them in the sky, but it calls our attention mostly to the sun and the moon. The stars almost seem to be just mentioned: “He made the stars also.” Yet the stars, too, are called God’s lights “set in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth.” (Genesis 1:16-17)
The stars in God’s creation have a prominent place in this Epiphany hymn by Nicolai F. S. Grundtvig (1783-1875). The stars in the night sky make it “bright and glorious.” They make the high heavens “radiant.” When God set them in the heavens, He made them so that their rays of light incline to the earth and “beckon us to heaven above.” They lift our thoughts from earthly things to God the Maker of all things.
The “sages from the east afar” who came to visit the child Jesus were undoubtedly careful observers of the stars, for they took note of the star that signaled His birth when it rose in the East. But it was not just the appearance of a new star that led them to undertake the journey to Bethlehem; stars by themselves tell us only of the power and wisdom of God.
The wise men identified the new star as a “wondrous star” and “went to find the King of nations and to offer their oblations unto Him as Lord and King.” For this they needed more than the knowledge of astronomy, more than the knowledge of God’s eternal power and deity. To identify the star as they did, the wise men needed the knowledge of God that is revealed only in the Bible. This knowledge they surely had, for how else could they have known the significance of the star? The wise men evidently knew of the prophecy of Christ that says, “A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17) It must have been this knowledge that moved them to set out on a journey from their homeland to Bethlehem. This is why the wise men are thought to have been from Babylon, where the Jews took the knowledge of the true God when they were exiled there.
The wise men had the faith that comes by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word, for when they found the child Jesus, it was in lowly circumstances. “Him they found in Bethlehem, yet He wore no diadem; they but saw a maiden lowly with an Infant pure and holy resting in her loving arms.” Still, they worshiped Him as the promised Christ, their Lord and Savior.
The beauty of this hymn is especially its praise of God’s Word as the true star that guided the wise men. “Guided by the star they found Him whose praise the ages sound.” The Word is the star that has also guided us to the child Jesus and pointed Him out to us as the promised Savior. You and I did not get to see the star that the wise men saw. But we have the same Word that they had. We have more than they had, for we have the record of Christ’s life, atoning death, and resurrection.
We hear no more of the Bethlehem star after it led the wise men to the child Jesus. But God’s Word is still here for us and will be for the rest of our lives. By it the Holy Spirit strengthens and keeps us in the true faith unto everlasting life.
As a star, God’s holy Word ϑ Leads us to our King and Lord; ϑ Brightly from its sacred pages ϑ Shall this light throughout the ages ϑ Shine upon our path of life.
John Klatt is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado.