A Revolutionary Christmas: How Christmas impacted science (Mat. 2:1-2, 7-11)

Publié le 29 décembre 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon preached by Pastor Samuel Niblack on 19th December 2021

During this month of December, we said that the coming of Jesus revolutionized our world, our culture, our history. Christmas is often seen as something that is limited to the month of December, under the tree. But in reality, the coming of Jesus and the Christian message have impacted all aspects of life. We have seen the impact of Christmas on politics, sexuality… and this morning, we will see its impact on science.

Everyone knows that Christmas is a great story for the kids. But between adults, concretely, what should we think? What would science say, what would scientists say? Nowadays, it’s the phrase that cuts it all off  “scientists say…” What do scientists say about Christmas history?

Let’s read Matthew 2:1-2, 7-11

If there is one aspect of Christmas history that is folkloric, non-scientific, it would be the star of Bethlehem. A star that guides the magicians, and even stops above a house!

But this morning, I would like to show that Christmas is not just for children, it is for scientists. Christmas is not anti-science. Christmas is pro-science.

The message of Christmas and its impact on the world has brought us modern science and great scientific progress. 

Let us take a closer look at these magi and their approach:

1. Science led them to Jesus.

2. They didn’t worship science, they worshiped Jesus.

I. Science led them to Jesus

Who are these wise men? The wise men of the East, the word comes from “magician” or astrologer, but in the East at the time, the wise men were sharp astronomers, scientists. This is the position that Daniel had held, Daniel had been part of the astrologers and magicians, this is like a ministerial position in the government. It was the scientific council of their country, like researchers at the Cité de l’Espace.

At the time, there was this idea that the sky, the planets and the constellations could predict or interpret events on earth. The study of the sky and the stars was highly developed in the East. One has to be wary of the assumption that in ancient times they were ignorant and that today we are intelligent. It’s true that we have more technology and more knowledge, but in the domain of astronomy, there was already impressive mastery during ancient times. In the evenings, we watch Netflix, while they had the celestial vault…who would you think is smarter? The magi’s presence in Christmas history is very telling: among the first people to worship Jesus were great scientists.

And now I would like to propose that science led them to Jesus. What was this star they saw? A star like the Northern Star? Conjunction of planets? Something supernatural, like an angel?

I draw on the work of Stephen Nicolls, an evangelical Irishman, who took Matthew’s text seriously. 

There is something visible in the Babylonian sky (v.1). Notice that it’s a star that rose “at dawn” (v.2). It is a scientific term: the heliacal rising of a star is the moment when this star becomes visible to the East, above the Earth’s horizon at dawn, after a period when it was hidden under the horizon. A few weeks or months later (the time it takes to travel to Israel), they see it again in the Southern sky, going from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (v.9). The most difficult phenomenon to explain, is in verse 9, where it says that the star stopped above a house. And finally, it is necessary to explain their joy (v.10). And if it were an angel, it would be difficult to explain their joy: everyone who sees an angel is afraid. But here, it is the eureka of scientists who confirm a theory and who know they are on the right track.

Is there a scientific, astronomical phenomenon that corresponds to all these details and that would fascinate astronomers? Not a star. Not a conjunction of planets.

On the other hand, there is an astronomical phenomenon, which could meet all these conditions, it is that of a comet. A comet, (not a shooting star) is a huge snowball, when approaching the sun, the sun’s rays melt the gases, which gives it its tail and its name, “hairy stars”. They may be visible for several months, at sunrise and sunset, but they have atypical orbits.

By playing with certain parameters, astronomers have shown that it is conceivable that as a comet was passing the horizon, it has the impression of stopping and pointing at a house.

This does not call into question the miraculous aspect of this celestial body. This could lead to a false approach of trying to explain the whole Bible with science and natural causes.

In a language that I could understand, God revealed Himself to the wise men with this extraordinary, astronomical discovery, and it pushed them toward Jesus, toward God’s Word.

That is still the case today. We can deplore many things in the world today, but we live in exciting times. It is exciting to think that more and more, science makes atheism very difficult. The more powerful microscopes and telescopes become, the more they lead to God. At the moment, in the top ten of sales on Amazon, it’s « God, Science, Evidence, the dawn of a revolution: Science is God’s new ally.” Science and in particular astronomy and astrophysics lead us to a Creator God.

Let’s look at three modern scientific discoveries:

1.The universe has a beginning.

2.The universe seems perfectly adjusted. The motion and balance of the planets and the trajectory of the planets seems perfectly planned and calculated. For instance, the size of our planet: If it were any bigger or smaller, it would not support life on earth. Look at Jupiter, its presence is our salvation. The enormous mass of Jupiter deflects space objects that could crush the earth and prevent or extinguish life.

3.The origin of life (biogenesis). Look at the complexity of DNA. The monocellular organism with the smallest DNA has 159,662 characters!

Science has progressed where there was a Christian view of the world. The Bible says that at the origin of the universe, in the beginning, there is a thought, a word, an intelligence that created everything. And this God created us in his image, with the desire to communicate, to understand, to create, to embellish, to tame. This God became incarnate in this material world. These truths give the big green light to science. As Einstein said, “the great miracle of the universe is that it is understandable.”

Scientific progress has not become so widespread in cultures dominated by fatalistic, animist religions. Fatalistic cultures do not necessarily seek to understand, solve problems and find solutions. In animist cultures, behind every element of nature, there is a capricious god to appease, one lives in fear, superstition. Even today, even when we say that the whole universe is the result of chance, we do not use chance to advance science.

II. They did not worship science, they worshipped Jesus.

The magi’s approach is astonishing because normally, in the pagan mentality, the celestrial bodies were deities. They did not erect an idol and a new temple for this comet. They did not stand as high priests of a new religion. Instead of worshipping an object of nature, a created object, they worshiped the Creator.

What led the wise men to come to Jerusalem? To ask for the king of the Jews? A comet does not speak. But in Babylon, they had access to biblical texts, since the Jews had been exiled there. 

Numbers 24:17: I see him, but not now, I behold him, but not near. Out of Jacob comes a star, and out of Israel is a scepter

Science has led them to biblical texts. Once arrived in Jerusalem, it was the biblical text of Micah that led them to Bethlehem, not the star. Micah 5:2:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.

Natural revelation, nature leads us to God, but He gives us more, His word. We need His word because science is not supreme. It doesn’t explain everything. It doesn’t explain the joy of the magicians. Science would explain joy as just neurons that trigger hormones. It does not explain Herod’s wickedness (were these slaughtered babies just cell clusters?).

The problem of our age is that science has emerged as the supreme value, and it becomes scientism. But in scientism, there is a political, financial, media agenda, and other points of view are not accepted. True scientists show great humility – science never ceases to discover how little is known. When we look back 50 years, we say, how little did we know at the time! In 50 years, science will look at 2021 and say, how little did we know! Which is the reason not to love science. But God does not change, and his word does not change.

And above all, a star cannot save us or enter our lives. A comet remains impersonal. Have you ever contemplated the sky, a clear night in the mountains, in the countryside? This is one of the most striking experiences of human existence – but even then, can the milky way remove the feelings of shame, guilt, failure, insignificance, bitterness that fill our lives? Can it erase death? For this, we need a Saviour, a shepherd, the God of love. Whether one is a multi-diplomaed astronomer or a simple carpenter, adult or child, we all need the Saviour.

May this Christmas be yet another occasion to place your faith in him.