On Monday evening, Mary Lou and I drove out to the Agricultural Heritage Park, part of the old Dairy Farm at Auburn University. A beautiful setting, it is one of the few places where the night sky is not overwhelmed by the lights of the school and the city.
Like many people around the world, we watched in awe at the brilliance of what appeared to be the brightest star in the sky. In fact, it was the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which appeared to come so close they seemed to almost touch. In our part of the world, it was the closest the two planets had appeared in the sky in almost 800 years.
This has come to be known as the “Christmas Star” or the “Star of Bethlehem”, though they are not stars at all. The conjunction or coming together of the planets typically occurs during the Christmas season. This year, they were the most visible since the 13th century, on the darkest day of the year, December 21st. There was little moonlight and the sky was crystal clear.
With the setting sun leaving a brilliant orange haze on the horizon against the blue sky, the planets were clearly visible even to the naked eye. A couple of time released photos on my smartphone clearly showed Jupiter and Saturn almost touching, although they are almost 500 million miles apart.
Modern day scientists think it is unlikely this was the actual star or light that led the wise men to Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt, however, that this light has captured the imagination of today’s world.
Just four days before the world struggles to celebrate Christmas during the pandemic resulting from the Coronavirus, we are more in need than ever of listening to the miraculous story of Christmas.
For over two thousand years, that birth has brought hope and spread love throughout the world. We look for hope as desperately as we have in my lifetime, with the vaccines giving us a glimmer of promise for better days ahead.
We look for love, as we are separated from our friends and family. We miss the touch of our loved ones, the camaraderie of our friends, and the comfort of our past routines. We pray for a return to normalcy, even as we realize there is likely a totally new normal for the foreseeable future.
Nevertheless, on the shortest and darkest day of the darkest year of my life, there was a shining light in the dark sky. It gave me hope and reminded me that I am loved. It was not just for my eyes, but for the eyes of millions of people in our country and around the world that saw the light as they gazed into the sky that we all share.
As I saw these two planets, one just over a billion miles away, I was reminded of how small I am. It is reassuring to know that science has evolved in a way to provide a vaccine less than a year after this virus appeared. It is comforting to know that God is in control, even as we may seem clueless.
On the darkest day of 2020, the Winter Solstice, there was the brightest light in the southwestern sky in 800 years. From this day forward, our days will get longer until late June.
The bright lights of Jupiter and Saturn tonight are my Christmas Star. They are the Star of Bethlehem of 2020, which can lead us to a return of the celebration of a Baby born in a manger; a Baby that changed the world.
Merry Christmas to all. May all the stars shine bright in your world during the coming year.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org