The year was 135 B.C. A huge double comet with curved tails, the Sinope Comet, appeared in the sky over Pontus, now Turkey. Surely magi must have come from the East and maybe the West, North and South to see what the heavens foretold in the birth of the infant in the House of King Mithradates V Euergetes.
Comets were viewed in the ancient world as signs a Savior-King had been born to lead a certain group of people to freedom from the yoke of their oppressors. People rejoiced everywhere ― except, of course, the ruling class of governments such as the Roman Empire who were terrified of the negative portents of such celestial events.
Not only were there two comets in the heavens over the infant Mithradates, but a lightning bolt hit his cradle and bounced off his forehead without killing him. It left a scar that looked like the Nike “swoosh” which only further enhanced the infant’s stature.
For all intents and purposes, Mithradates had all of the characteristics and tributes of a divinely appointed hero. Prophecies from Persian, Babylonian, Zoroastrianism and Egyptian oracles as well as Hebrew prophets often pointed to bright lights in the heavens leading to a redeeming savior.
If magi came to Pontus, they would have recognized almost immediately the baby Mithradates VI Eupator was not the Messiah they had hoped to find. Possibly the scar on the forehead gave it away since there was no mention of such a mark in the writings of the Jewish prophets. The magi probably just shook their heads slowly as they stroked their beards in deep thought, turned around and started the long trek back home to await the next blazing star in the heavens to point them to the next possible Savior-King who might be born.
Since 135 B.C., there have been more than 70 great comets visible to humans since the birth of Jesus, 26 of which have been Halley’s Comet. There may have been myriad star-led births such as Mithradates from the ancient world to modernity, most now lost to history.
There has been only one birth under such a celestial sign which is still remembered and celebrated today ― the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
It is truly remarkable to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus 2022 years later when most of the other prominent religions at the time of his birth are now defunct and/or forgotten. Roman gods and goddesses such as Apollo and Minerva are remembered only if a middle school class curriculum includes mythology. Athena and Zeus from the Greek religion before then are remembered only when sculpture or art is on display.
There must be something authentic about the Christian faith which has allowed it to spread across the globe. Christianity is embraced by people of every race, language and culture in the world, unlike other religions which tend to be tied closely to one particular culture or area of geography.
Is it the promise of eternal life? His was the most radical revolution in human history, requiring oftentimes dramatic changes in personal behavior and prejudices. Love your enemies? Turn the other cheek? If someone sues for your shirt, give them the cloak off your back as well? In the ancient world filled with brutality where an eye-for-an-eye punishment and retribution were accepted as the norm, such words of hope, charity and love shined bright as the star underneath which Jesus was born.
Is it the Holy Spirit? Jesus promised He would send a Helper to His followers after He rose from the dead. Is that the reason why Christianity continues to spread and change people’s lives for the past two thousand years?
Mithradates was not the Savior-King for whom many prayed and hoped. Neither was Alexander, Julius Caesar, Darius of Persia or any other prophesied “chosen one” through history.
Christmas is more than a time to exchange presents with loved ones and drink eggnog. It is the time to consider whether you think the whole story about Jesus being the Savior is true or not.
We can all thank God for such a choice.