Lord's Day Liturgy

The Great Conjunction of Death and Joy

Monday night we have our final college astronomy class of 2020. One of the things we hope to see is Jupiter and Saturn so near to each other than they appear as one bring light. I say we hope to see it because our Snohomish weather forecast includes cloudy skies. We’ll try.

The orbits of these planets near each other according to a measurable and predicable pattern. From our view on earth into the heavens Jupiter and Saturn get within a degree of each other every 20 years. But at sunset tonight they will be separated by only one-tenth of a degree. They haven’t been so close since 1623, and won’t be again until 2080.

Saturn, top, and Jupiter, below, are seen after sunset from Shenandoah National Park, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Luray, Virginia. The two planets are drawing closer to each other in the sky as they head towards a “great conjunction” on December 21, where the two giant planets will appear a tenth of a degree apart. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Some astronomers have wondered if this event was the Christmas star the wise men followed to find Jesus. Apparently in 7 BC Jupiter and Saturn were within one degree of each other three times in eight months. As fun as that theory is, the inspired account in Matthew makes it sound not only as a single star, but a star close enough to earth that “it came to rest over the place where the child was,” over a single house (Matthew 2:9-11), not just above the horizon.

I’m mentioning it for a few reasons. One, anyone could look toward the southwest at sunset to see the sky above proclaiming God’s handiwork, one night’s revelation of knowledge (Psalm 19:1-2). This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, give glory to God! Two, don’t forget that God established lights in the heavens for signs and seasons, and for days and years (Genesis 1:14). Wintertime, Christmastime, 2020time, these are His to rule and reminders of His vast and enchanted cosmos.

Three, God ordained not just stars, but a Son who is the “light of the world” (John 8:12, also 1:4, 9). That Son ordained a simple supper, not to stretch our conception of space, but to swell our calculation of salvation by grace. We are privileged to observe it every week.

And one more thing. In an older cosmology, Saturn was understood to have the characteristic of death, and Jupiter a sense of joy. Is there any other place we can look to see such a great conjunction of death and joy? When we look at the Lord’s Table, we proclaim His death (1 Corinthians 11:26) with great joy (Luke 2:10) and the light of our salvation is made more bright.