It was an unexpected gift at the end of a very long day and a twenty-one-hour ﬂight. I and my team from Life Outreach Ministries had landed the previous evening in Luanda, the capital of Angola in Central Africa. We were there on a mission to meet with elders in various villages and talk with them about their most immediate needs. Due to an extended period of drought, food supplies had all but dried up, and many of the children were victims of severe malnutrition. Our partners in Southern Africa had produced an oatmeal-like soup that contained vital nutrients and vitamins that children in that part of the world so desperately needed, and we would be able to bring it to their villages. It was the best news to share. Literally, life in a bowl.
The following morning, we were up and on the road by ﬁve a.m. I’m pretty sure the shock absorbers on our jeep may have worked well in the 19505, but they were struggling to work for us. After several hours of banging my head on the roof of the jeep as we drove deeper and deeper into the dry, arid land, we came to our first village. Through our interpreter, we asked the village chief for permission to camp there that night. Knowing that we were there to help support the children, he graciously said yes.
I’d never spent the night in a one-person tent before. It is quite an adventure as long as you don’t need to stand up too often. We were each assigned an army cot, a sleeping bag, and a headband with a light attached. I wasn’t sure why we’d need a headlamp, but then the sun went down and the darkness came. When you are hundreds of miles from the nearest town or city and there is no electricity, nighttime is a black backdrop for the stars. I took my sleeping bag outside, lay down, and gazed up at the night sky. It was breathtaking. I saw what Abram must have seen.
Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” Genesis 15:5
As I gazed up at the stars that night, I was in awe of this unexpected gift. So far away from home yet so aware of the presence of God my Father, I found myself worshiping. I thought about the ancient visitors who were guided by a star and brought their gifts to the Christ child. The Greek word magoi used in Matthew 3 is translated as Magi or wise men. These men came from the east, probably from Babylon or Persia, a journey of more than ﬁve hundred or six hundred miles. They were not Jews waiting for the Messiah; they were men of science who studied the stars. So what was this star? Some experts believe it was a supernova or a comet, but only God knows for sure.
In his fascinating book The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer’s View, Mark Kidger points to something that occurred in 7 BC, two years before the year most scholars agree Christ was born. The planets Jupiter and Saturn passed each other three times that year. That December, when they passed each other for the third time, they met then parted slowly. Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, was considered a sign of royalty. Saturn, the second largest, was seen as a sign of protection. There is an ancient Jewish saying that God created Saturn to protect and watch over Israel. To those who studied the stars, the message was clear: a King is coming to protect God’s people.
In 5 BC a brilliant star shone for seventy days, and it is thought that this is likely the time when the Magi began their journey to Jerusalem. In most nativity scenes, they are depicted at the stable with the baby Jesus, but that’s not what happened. By the time they arrived in Bethlehem at the home of Joseph and Mary, Jesus was no longer an infant. The Greek word used to describe Jesus in Matthew 2 is not the word that means “baby” but rather the word for a child or toddler.
Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him. Matthew 2:2
In summarizing all the events that took place in the heavens, Mark Kidger writes, “We ﬁnd a series of events so unique that they can happen together only once in every several thousands of years.” These men of science took great risks, traveled a great distance, and gave extravagant gifts. In the presence of this tiny King, they bowed down and worshiped.
How can we do less? Even in the darkest of times, when we can’t see His hand, the brilliant light of Christ shines with hope and guides us onward. Perhaps tonight, if the sky is clear, you might step outside and gaze up at the stars and remember who our soon returning King is and worship Him.
Sheila Walsh joins Randy and Tammy this Wednesday and Thursday to share her favorite Christmas stories. Excerpted from The Gifts Of Christmas by Sheila Walsh. Copyright ©2023 by Sheila Walsh. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.