The Christmas Star

On December 21, 2020, the planets Jupiter and Saturn appeared extremely close together in the sky in what folks have been calling “The Christmas Star.”

Astronomers have another name for the phenomenon, calling it a ‘great conjunction’ – referring to how close they appear in the sky (though they were actually about 465 million miles apart at the time).  It’s also an exceedingly rare event; as you may have heard, the last time they appeared so close in the sky in a way visible to folks in the northern hemisphere, it was 1226 AD.

With all of the talk of the “Christmas Star”, could it be that something like this was what got the attention of the Wise Men and set them traveling to Jerusalem to seek the King of the Jews as described in the Gospel of Matthew?

I think it’s very plausible, with a few caveats.

The first caveat is that there is no physical object that would behave exactly like what is described in Matthew 2:9-10 where the star “stops” over the place where the child was.  The image here seems more an echo of God’s guiding the people of Egypt in the wilderness through the pillar of fire and smoke.  If so, that may be a more narrative element than intended as a descriptive one.

Which is the second caveat – attempts to scientifically ‘prove’ the genuinely miraculous aren’t necessarily helpful.  From a Christian perspective, we aren’t surprised that a God who both created the universe and is active within it, can so work within creation that natural things happen at a time and place that accomplishes God’s purposes.  From a non-theistic perspective, those could be called coincidences.  But when we try to explain the truly miraculous, by which I mean things that are genuinely outside of the patterns of nature & laws of physics – they are intrinsically unprovable and unrepeatable by scientific methods.  That’s not a slam on science, just describing its limitations.  Events like the resurrection, the transfiguration, miracles of instantaneous healing; when we try to make them ‘rational’ to fit a materialistic worldview, it just doesn’t work.

All of that to say; if the Star of Bethlehem fits into the latter category, we’re not going to get too far with explanations.

But…  there’s a reason Matthew tells the story of the Wise Men, and that suggests that God was communicating in a way they could understand, (kind of like the incarnation itself…).

First, we need to deal with some calendar stuff.  You might know that we don’t actually know what day Jesus was born on – that December 25th is the date chosen by the ancient church to remember Jesus’ birth, but not claimed to actually *be* the anniversary of Jesus’ birth.

But what gets weird is that Jesus was actually born ‘BC’ – yep.  Due to an error in the formation of the Anno Domini dating system in 525, which incorrectly dated the year of Jesus’ birth, the various sources of data we have point to Jesus being born sometime between 7 BC and 4 BC.  The clue in Luke’s Gospel about the shepherds being out in the fields by night also point to a fall or springtime date for Jesus’ birth.

Ok, with that timeframe in mind, let’s start talking astronomy.  Or rather astrology, because the Wise Men were actually ‘Magi’ – astrologers from Persia, people who (among other things) studied the night sky for omens and signs.

Astrology itself is based on the movements of the five planets visible to the naked eye (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) across the constellations of the zodiac.  Each planet and each constellation had different meanings.  While the stars trace a regular path across the night sky each evening and season, the planets seemed to move around all over the place.  The word planet itself in Greek means ‘wanderer’.  The wanderings of these planets across the sky was often seen as a message to those down on the earth.

However — the movement of the planets are not random; we can calculate and predict their movements (as could many ancient astronomers), which lets us rewind and fast forward the night sky to see what was going on back then.

So, were there any special planetary conjunctions between 7 and 4 BC?

You bet.

In 7BC – there was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces

    • On May 29, 7 BCE
    • On September 29, 7 BCE
    • On December 4, BCE

In 6 BC there was a near conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces where the three planets lined up close to the horizon, looking west.

In both cases, an argument goes that Pisces, symbolizing the fish, had special significance in regards to the Jewish people.

In August 12, 3 BCE – Venus and Jupiter have a close conjunction in the constellation Leo (which is understood to refer to kingship), and then another even closer one in 2 BCE where they appear to merge.  The two brightest planets in the night sky merging as one would have been an impressive sight, and astronomer Roger Sinott made a case that the 2 BCE event was what the magi were referring to in Matthew chapter 2.

To be clear – I am not condoning or supporting astrology as an idea or a practice.  The Bible itself condemns the impulse to worship the stars (Deuteronomy 4:19) and attempts to divine the future (Deuteronomy 18:9-12).

I do think that in this instance, it is possible God communicated with the Magi in a way they could understand, to point them to Jesus, the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Which again points us to a God who will reach out to us wherever we are, to draw us to the One who alone is the source of our life and hope.

May that then, be the invitation for us this Christmas – to not only be living with our eyes open for God, but the readiness to act on it, that Jesus may be king in our hearts and lives.

Blessings to you this Christmas season and always.

-Pastor Brian

(some references)
https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/great-jupiter-saturn-conjunction-dec-21-2020

http://www.astronomynotes.com/history/bethlehem-star.html

http://www.iranchamber.com/calendar/articles/astrology_astronomy_iran_mesopotamia.php

not an academic link but interesting for the topic:

https://sewjewish.com/2015/06/21/signs-of-the-zodiac-are-jewish-symbols/

Friendsgiving – November 26

(From Gabrielle Hastings:)

For many of us, Thanksgiving is going to look a little different this year as we forgo gatherings with family in the hope of keeping everyone healthy. Our family made the decision to cancel our plans this year…but I’m still going to cook a turkey dinner.

With so many people planning to spend Thanksgiving alone, we want to give people the opportunity to celebrate together even if we’re physically apart. So we invite those who would otherwise be alone to join us for a remote Friendsgiving. Sign up by Sunday, November 22nd, to pick up a meal on the afternoon of November 26, Thanksgiving Day, and then join us on Zoom for dinner or dessert.

The meal will include turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, and a choice of pumpkin or apple pie. Let us know how many are in your household what kind of pie you want, and if there’s anything you don’t want included. If you have any food allergies, let us know and we’ll try to accommodate them.

Guests can pick up food at our house from 2:00-2:45 p.m.; the Zoom gathering will begin at 3:00.  Address information and zoom links will be shared with those who sign up.

To let us know that you’re interested, if you have any questions or would like to help, contact Gabrielle Hastings at gabriellehastings@gmail.com

Big Give 2020

Please join Home Sweet Home Ministries, Midwest Food Bank, and
Thrivent Financial as we come together to collect items for Thanksgiving
meal boxes. During September shop Hy-Vee and Schnucks for the items
listed below. We appreciate your support. Thank you so much!

  • 1 Box of Stuffing Mix
  • 2 Cans of Green Beans
  • 2 Cans of Cream of Mushroom
  • 1 Box of Mashed Potatoes
  • 1 Envelope of Gravy (No jars, please.)
  • 1 Regular Can of French Fried Onions
  • 1 Can of Cranberry Sauce
  • 1 Box of Pie Crust Mix
  • 1 Can of Pumpkin Pie
  • 1 Can of Evaporated Milk

With your help, we will be able to provide 2,500 meal boxes to families in
need this Thanksgiving. Please shop in person or online today!

First Baptist Church of Bloomington will be collecting items for the Thanksgiving Food Boxes from now until October 4.  Please feel free to stop by the church during office hours (9am – 1:30pm M-Th, 9am-11:00am F) or contact us to arrange other options.

Donations will also gladly be accepted at Home Sweet Home Ministries
located at 303 East Oakland Avenue in Bloomington or at Midwest Food
Bank located at 2301 Warehouse Drive in Normal.

Virtual Interfaith Vigil: June 4, 5pm

The death of George Floyd has again brought to the forefront the ongoing pain caused by injustice in our culture, and the reality that without true justice, real peace is not possible in our nation or communities.

Across the twin city area, people of all faiths stand together to express our desire and commitment to work for peace and justice within our community.

On Thursday night, from 5-6pm, all are invited to join this vigil by the McLean County Interfaith Alliance in a time of prayer and hearing how our diverse faith traditions speak to the need for both peace and justice.

Click here to share in the Interfaith Vigil Livestream

Annual Meeting and Annual Report Links + Important Survey

On Sunday, May 31, 2020, FBC will host its annual meeting online following the worship livestream.

The worship service livestream will begin at 10am at this YouTube Link

The annual meeting will be held afterwards via this Zoom Link (no registration required)

The PDF of our annual report: Annual Report: 2019-2020

During the annual meeting, we will hear what God has been doing in the church, conduct regular business and hear more about our future plans.  There will be opportunities for questions and feedback.

We hope that you’ll join us online as we continue to serve God by sharing and growing together in faith.

Important Request:

We’ve designed two quick surveys to help us better understand the needs and perspectives of our church family as we shape our ministry moving forward. Those who receive our eLink newsletter will get links to the same surveys. Please participate in each survey once per person so that we can get the best information possible.

 

 

Welcome, Allison Benton!

Welcome Allison Benton! The Christian Education and Growth Committees are pleased to share that Allison Benton will be a short-term intern for FBC this spring. Allison is no stranger to FBC, growing up in our midst and is the daughter of Joyce Benton and Mike Benton.

While she is with us, Allison will be using her gifts in the following ways: helping leaders and members to stay connected using various social platforms during this shelter in place order as well as going forward; will be delivering devotions every Friday evening at 7 pm on our Zoom link; offering Bible lessons geared toward children K-5th grade on the FBC You Tube channel; and helping everyone get aboard the Rocky Road Railway vacation Bible school to be held in one day later this summer.

Thank you Allison for sharing your gifts with FBC – we look forward to working with you as we continue the mission of FBC in the community.

Ways to Help

Sheltering in place and minimizing our interactions with one another in public is one of the most essential things we can do right now to care for one another.

At the same time, there are many additional steps we can take to demonstrate the love of God, caring for our neighbors in this time.

 

Here are some ways to help:

Call One Other & pray for each other – one of the most important things we can do is simply check in on each other by phone, text or online, and listen for how folks are really doing, asking how we can pray for each other.

Making Masks for yourself or others

Supporting Covid-19 Relief efforts through

International Ministries

American Baptist Home Mission Societies 

Volunteer to help people over 60 through Faith In Action

Sign up to help distribute food at the Western Av Community Center

Sign up to help at the Midwest Food Bank

Volunteer Shoppers Needed for Luther Oaks

 

Living our Faith in a time of Covid-19

In light of the need to provide for the health of both the church and community, FBC has suspended our in-person gatherings and regular ministries for the time being.

First Baptist Church continues to be committed to living out the love of God in these circumstances by caring for our neighbors, our church family and one another, encouraging each other and remaining connected.

Here’s our current ministry focus right now at First Baptist Church:

Worship

Worship will need to be online for a while; and we are working to establish the easiest ways for people to be able to join us in worship online.

We will stream an online worship gathering at 10am at https://www.youtube.com/user/FBCBloomingtonIL/live

We encourage everyone who is able to join us at 10am and check-in through the comments/chat section as a way of sharing that we have gathered in spirit.  The service recording will be available afterward for those who can’t join at that time.

Following the worship service, we invite you to join us in a video conference where we can see one other, check in and pray together.

Please note that you will not be able to join the meeting until it goes ‘live’ following the worship service on Sunday.  

You may want to try the link anyway to install Zoom on your web browser or to install the app on your phone or tablet ahead of time.  Our evening devotional times at 7pm are also a way to check in and test out Zoom before Sunday.

Here’s a link on what Zoom is and how to use it.

Links to these events will be posted here by Friday; check back soon!

Connection

During this time when we are being discouraged from gathering in person and minimizing our personal contact with others, it’s vitally important that we find ways to stay connected with one another.

Our staff and leadership are developing ways to make sure we can be in communication with all our members, especially those who are unable to connect online.

At the same time, we encourage every member and friend of FBC to reach out to one another, check in on each other and see how things are going, particularly those who may be more isolated.  Call, text, send a card or a letter.  If you know of someone who is struggling, or who may need some help, do what you can, and let the church know so that we can respond together.

We are also thinking up creative ways that each of us can share and check in with each other online; from sharing a story of where you’re seeing God at work in the midst of this, to sending in silly hat photos…  We all need both spiritual encouragement and a good laugh — and sometimes they’re one and the same.

One of our primary ways we’ll have to share information quickly will be via. email; if you would like to stay in touch with latest developments, please email us at: info@fbcblm.org

Discipleship

Our LOGOS program is not meeting in person, but our LOGOS team is hard at work to reach out to our families.  We will be posting videos, devotional material, resources, and finding other ways to stay connected.

You can find our weekly LOGOS videos here.

Likewise, our Small Groups and Sunday Classes are not meeting, but we are in the process of adding ways we can share devotionals, resources, and ways to pray for one another.

In the coming weeks, look for Zoom meetings to be posted that will allow us to gather online for Bible study and prayer.

Mission

First Baptist Church remains committed to reaching out to our community to bear witness to God’s love in action and in word.

We continue to partner with Sugar Creek Elementary School, collaborating in providing food packs and other supplies.

Volunteers from church continue to serve at Safe Harbor, Faith In Action, and other local agencies.

We will be posting ways that healthy individuals can care for the community and help folks in a variety of ways, and we are committed to doing what we can to help those who are affected by the indirect effects of coronavirus and its economic impacts.

All of this is a work in progress –

We are working hard to realign our entire way of doing ministry in this time; it takes time, and there will be bumps along the way.  Let us know how we can best help you in this time, and please be patient with us in the process!

That said – it is a reminder that *we* – all of us – are the church; and this time presents us a unique opportunity to live that out together.  May God bless and sustain each of us in spirit and in body in these days!

Grace and Peace,

-Pastor Brian