Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reprise: Star of Wonder: What is Truth?

As I am on a self-imposed hiatus until after the inauguration, I thought I might republish some pieces from the past. We have, in fact, received our first Christmas cards and, indeed, the 'star' appeared thereupon...

[originally posted Dec. 2, 2007]

Star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding...

No doubt we will receive several Christmas cards this season with the famous Star of Bethlehem scene, based on Matthew 2:1-11.

Today's bible study scriptural reading is from John 8: 25-47 which has the famous quote from Pilate, 'What is Truth?' during the supposed conversation between Jesus and the Roman governor of Judaea.

The Sadducees ruling the Temple at that time were quite the literalists, basing much of their interpretation of the Law in Leviticus. They often clashed with the Pharisees in which law to follow. The classic example of this difference between the two is in the adage, 'An eye for an eye...' The Sadducees demanded an actual eye-plucking. The two disagreed about resurrection as well.

Enter the modern-day Christian who may ask, 'What is truth?' or 'what is the truth?' The fundamentalists hold fast to the literalness of the Bible, rejecting any suggestion of myth or other literary styles which may call into question actual events. The 'truth' however becomes very fuzzy at this time of the church year.

Of the five major canonical New Testament writers, just two write of the birth of Jesus and each story differs greatly. Only Matthew mentions the star. So today's Christian must ask, 'was the star literal or figurative?' What is the truth? Are we more Sadducee or Pharisee?

We will forgive the Greek scholar who spoke of the star in the East leading the wise men of the East as they travelled west. Yet we cannot be so generous with this part of Matthew: "and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was." That little tin star that we hang above the manger scene is appropriate in size according to this text. Only this size 'star' could pinpoint the particular spot as accurately as the GPS does today. Were it an actual star or comet, it would illuminate the entire continent.

Thus, today, we are left with that same question that Pilate supposedly asked regarding 'truth.'

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