After a tough year of lockdowns and living through the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are looking for a sign of hope. The world may get that sign on Monday, when Jupiter and Saturn come together to form a great light in the night sky.
And it’s all too fitting that this should happen right before Christmas. Let me explain.
Roughly in the year 6 B.C., Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered that the whole empire be taxed, via a census. In order to do so, all citizens had to return to their ancestral villages. Among the many travelers returning home to pay taxes were the Virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph.
Mary was pregnant, and on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the Virgin Mary began delivering the baby. The closest place to stop was an inn, but all the rooms were full. So they were sent out to the manger where Mary gave birth to Jesus, who Christians believe is the son of God.
At the same time that Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem, what looked like a bright star appeared in the night sky. According to tradition, great celestial events signaled the rise of kings and God’s favor.
In the Bible, three wise men knew the tradition and sensed that this great “star” would lead them to their savior, so they followed it to an inn in Bethlehem, where they found Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.
The star that signaled the birth of Jesus Christ and led the wise men to their savior became known as the Star of Bethlehem and later the Christmas Star.
This Christmas Star that led the wise men to Jesus has become an iconic symbol of Christianity and the light we must follow during the holiday season. We see the star on top of Christmas trees and in Nativity scenes, all in reference to the original star that introduced Jesus to the world.
Since the star plays a central role in the Christmas story, many people have debated whether it was real or just a symbol of the light Jesus would bring into the world.
Stars symbolize emerging hope, God’s plan for the world, and even the journey to find God in our lives as the wise men did. Many people believe that the Christmas Star was just that: a biblical symbol.
Others, however, think that the Christmas Star was a real, physical, celestial object. Scientifically, it is possible that the Christmas star did exist but is known today as what we call a great conjunction.
According to NASA, what has become known popularly as the Christmas Star is “an especially vibrant planetary conjunction easily visible in the evening sky over the next two weeks as the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn come together, culminating on the night of Dec. 21.”
Jupiter and Saturn appear to us on Earth to be aligned in the sky about once every 20 years. But this year, the planets will pass each other closer than they have in 400 years. Plus, this will be the first time in 800 years that the alignment occurs at night, allowing people around the world to see it.
A conjunction between the planets could occur on any date throughout the year, as it has in the past. But this year is special because Jupiter and Saturn will reach their closest apparent separation on the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year.
I dig deeper into the story of the Christmas Star and what people will be seeing Monday night in the night sky on the latest episode of my podcast, “Newt’s World.” My guest is Dr. Henry Throop, who explains the scientific nature of the Christmas Star, or the great conjunction.
Dr. Throop is a program scientist in the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters. He focuses his research on the outer solar system and co-discovered Pluto’s moon Styx in 2012. His expertise is deep, and his insights are exciting for anyone interested in space and the unknown.
I hope you will listen to this week’s episode and see the light of Jupiter and Saturn coming together in a conjunction on the darkest day of the year, just before Christmas, as a sign of hope for 2021 after the dark, crazy year that was 2020.
I also hope you will listen to my next episode, set to air Wednesday, when I speak with a remarkably brave and amazing person, Sister Orla Treacy, about her efforts to educate girls in South Sudan.
To read, hear, and watch more of Newt Gingrich’s commentary, visit Gingrich360.com.