Culture At Large

Should we fake the Star of Bethlehem?

Erica Schemper

Many Advents ago, a colleague and I spent hours stringing hundreds of origami paper stars in the high rafters of our sanctuary. We then engineered a giant, five-foot-wide Moravian star out of white foam board to hang in the midst of that shower of stars. It was a slightly frivolous task for two ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament, but completely worth it when we saw the wonder and delight on the upturned faces of the congregation on Christmas Eve.

According to The Atlantic, there is a production company proposing the creation of fake meteor showers as part of the opening ceremonies for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Beyond the Olympics, and for a price, of course, “such shows could augment a presidential inauguration, a state funeral, an international holiday or even be enlisted for narrative purposes. Ten years from now, a Christmas celebration could involve a historical reenactment of the Star of Bethlehem.” The urge to recreate the wonder of the stars is not limited to paper productions, but extends all the way to extraterrestrial pyrotechnics.

I once heard a preacher inform the congregation that any attempt to find a scientific explanation for the Star of Bethlehem was not just missing the exegetical point of the star, but showed a lack of faith that called into question one’s Christian commitment. I’m no astronomer, and really don’t have a solid understanding of whether the star that pointed the magi to Bethlehem can be explained by astronomy. But pitting those who want a scientific explanation for the star against those who want a purely miraculous event seems to me to miss the point of wonder and awe. That God would choose to mark the birth of the savior of the world with a heavenly light show, whatever method God used to create it, seems to me the most beautiful expression of prophetic whimsy on the part of the Creator.

Our creating goes beyond artistic endeavors.

Wringing our hands about the possibility that the star of Bethlehem could be recreated by technological means also seems to miss the point. Human beings, created in God’s image, bear that image in many ways, and one of the most powerful is our urge to contemplate creation as a way to further understand God — and then to riff on that creation and participate in it by creating something ourselves. Our creating goes beyond artistic endeavors. The technology used for these fake meteor showers? Satellite technology, a scientific advancement that, like nearly all human technology, has been used to great good (global mapping systems, weather forecasting and beautiful pictures of the earth), as well as for great evil (waging war). Modern stargazers may look up at night and see the flash of a satellite in the sky. I admit being as amazed at the glint of light that might be the International Space Station as I have been by a meteor shower of the natural variety.

I’m inclined to think the use of technology to recreate the heavenly celebration of Jesus’s birth is a somewhat frivolous use of our satellite capabilities, especially when there is so much else in the world toward which money and scientific expertise could be directed. And yet I know I hope to spend hours with my children this summer lying on my back on a dark night in the mountains to ponder the starry heavens, that masterpiece of the Creator. And I also plan to spend time at our local museums with them, pondering the beauty (in both art and science) we humans are capable of creating. Maybe, then, a fake star is not so much a snub to the Creator of the universe as it is another example of our human striving to honor the One whose image we all carry.

Topics: Culture At Large, Science & Technology, Technology, Cosmology