Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Is There Christmas Without A Fall?

The Theommentary blog had some great Christmas links including one about a little astrological phenomenon known as the star of Bethlehem. Pretty fascinating.

I had heard before that there was a confluence of Venus with Jupiter (the King planet) in Leo (the lion of Judah) in 2 or 4 BC or something like that, and even preached about it one Christmas. This article has it happening in Aries (the ram of Judah?), so I'm not sure where the descrepency is. I'm no astrologer. But the magi were, and amazingly, that's how they found the Christ child. How's that for natural theology?

Even more interestingly however, as Christmas approaches, is this article by Philip Yancey, called "Ongoing Incarnation: Would Christmas have come even if we had not sinned?" I think it is a must-read, and by the way I'm totally with Duns Scotus on this one.

I think Christmas happens, Fall or no Fall. Otherwise we have something like felix culpa (fortunate fall) going on, and that makes little sense to me. From the foundation of the world we were always going to have fellowship with God through the God-man, Jesus Christ. As James Torrance put it:

"Christ took what was ours that he might give us what is his."

Gloria in exelsis deo.

Happy Incarnation Day folks.

The peace of Christ be with you.


Anonymous said...

Natural theology, huh? You knew you'd get me out of the woodwork on this one. ;)

I was reading Matt 2 this morning and was wondering: How did the Magi know that this "star" was related to the birth of the King of the Jews? I can't imagine that they saw the star and said, "Oh, that's gotta mean that there is a king born to the Jews..." More likely, they were reading the Hebrew Scriptures (Num 24:17?) and something they read there alerted them to the significance of a star relative to the king. In that case, it was Scripture which helped them make sense of nature, correct?

Have you seen anything plausible about this whole thing, Jon? I haven't looked into it too deeply myself...

Jon Coutts said...

ha ha you started it, it was your link that brought it back to mind.

truth is I think about this every year. Who were these guys and how did they find Jesus and what was this star?

I haven't read anything theological about all of this, but would love too. But as far as I know the astronomy is pretty solid information. Apparently there were a few possible phenomena in the sky in those years, and if you accept the idea that it was some sort of fixed astronomical event then you are left wondering:

1) Was this then planned from the creation of the world? (That's the angle I preached on a few years ago)

2) How did the Magi read into this and discover it?

In regard to the latter question, you could be right. Numbers 24:17 could even be playing into it somewhat. Certainly if you are an Eastern Astrologer or something of that sort and you see this thing happening within the constellation of a lion or a ram or something and you are pretty determined to see if it means anything and you turn to Hebrew Scriptures you might put two and two together. Any way you slice it, it is pretty incredible.

Matthew 2 says "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.'"

A couple things to note:
1) They didn't go straight to Bethlehem. They got the general direction from the star but went to the Jewish capital for further direction.
2) They figured on a royal Jewish birth. So yes, you do have to figure on some driving knowledge of Hebrew Scripture.

Numbers 14:17 says:

"I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel . . ."

I think it would be a tenuous connection, but along with other prophesies an eastern Magi who fears the God of the Hebrews may be compelled to pursue the possibility of this event taking place.

They seem pretty sure of themselves, though, don't they.

To pull all these scattered thoughts together, yes, I do think that this is more than just some wise men peicing together this royal birth from their star charts alone. There is something of God's special revelation holding sway here.

But that does not preclude the role of nature in guiding them to this moment, does it?

Can there be a natural theology that is like a "third order" activity; given its impetus and content from "second order" theological reflection on God's acts in human history?

I find this fascinating, and would love to study it more. But no, I'm not sure where to turn for others who have talked about it seriously.

I love the thought in point one, that this moment was written in the stars from the moment they were flung into orbit.