Why is a star such a powerful symbol for the birth of the Savior?
Stars represent us. The Lord referred to stars to illustrate for the vast number of descendants he would have. “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be” (Genesis 15:5). (See also Genesis 22:17, Genesis 26:4.) When Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, he acknowledged that this prophecy had been fulfilled: “The Lord your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude” (Deuteronomy 1:10). (See also Deuteronomy 10:22, Deuteronomy 28:62). When Joseph dreamed that eleven stars “made obeisance” to him, his eleven brothers immediately recognized that they were the stars (Genesis 37:9-11).
Stars represent heavenly beings. The Lord asked Job where he was when the world was created, “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). Lehi saw the Savior in a vision with twelve people following Him, “and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament” (1 Nephi 1:10). And Isaiah referred to Satan as helel (הֵילֵל), “a shining one,” and lamented his fall from heaven. The word helel is translated in the King James Version of the Bible as “Lucifer,” but is rendered in many other translations as the “shining star,” the “morning star” or the “day star.” (See Isaiah 14:12 on biblehub.com.) Lucifer’s tragic error was his desire for preeminence, “to exalt [his] throne above the stars of God” (Isaiah 14:13, 2 Nephi 24:13).
Stars remind us of our powerlessness. King David expressed his awe and reverence for God in the following way: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, asked, “Is not God in the height of heaven? and behold the height of the stars, how high they are!” (Job 22:12). One of the signs of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is that the stars will be darkened (Isaiah 13:10, 2 Nephi 23:10, Ezekiel 32:7-8, Joel 2:10, Joel 3:15) or will even fall from heaven (Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:25, Luke 21:25). The sign is clearly from God because no human can control the stars.
Five years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Samuel the Lamanite provided the residents of Zarahemla with several signs of his birth. “There shall be great lights in heaven,” he said, “insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day” (Helaman 14:3). The people would see the sun set and would see it rise again in the morning, but it would be light all night because of these lights in the sky. Subsequently, “there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld” (Helaman 14:5). Samuel also said there would be “many signs and wonders in heaven” (Helaman 14:6).
It’s not clear what form these signs took or what caused these phenomena in the sky, but when they appeared, the people were convinced:
At the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came….
And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given…..
And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word.3 Nephi 1:15, 19, 21
Some time later, a group of wise men arrived in Jerusalem searching for the newborn King. They told Herod that they had “seen his star in the east” (Matthew 2:2). They informed him when the new star had appeared (Matthew 2:7), apparently within 2 years prior (Matthew 2:16). After learning that Bethlehem was the prophesied birthplace of the Savior, they continued their journey, “and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was” (Matthew 2:9). I have a hard time visualizing that last part of the story, but the appearance of a new star, and its significance to a group of people searching for the Messiah, is compelling to me. The star meant that this infant was special, that His arrival represented a new connection with heaven. No wonder “when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:10).
The ancient prophet Balaam prophesied, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). The apostle John quoted the Savior as saying, “I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star” (Revelation 22:16).
Today, I will remember the symbolism of the star. I will be grateful that the Savior, the Bright and Morning Star, came to live among us on earth. I will be grateful for the reminder that God rules over the universe and has power over all things. Just as the symbols of the Savior’s birth represented His light, I will strive to help light the world during this Christmas season.