New Berlin — While everybody knows about the star that shone brightly in the ancient night sky over Bethlehem, not everyone knows that New Berlin has a Star of Bethlehem, also.
It is a growing and thriving congregation of 1,265. They are looking forward to celebrating the church's 50th anniversary next year.
The Rev. John Gawrisch, one of the three associate pastors at Star of Bethlehem, sees a similarly between the Star of Bethlehem and what the church does.
"The star led the Wise Men to Jesus and we've been pointing people to Jesus for 50 years," he said.
The Rev. Jonathan Nitz agreed, saying, "We are to be stars that shine, reflecting on God."
Like Bethlehem itself that lies six miles from bustling Jerusalem, New Berlin's Star of Bethlehem is way off bustling National Avenue. At 3700 S. Casper Drive, Star of Bethlehem Lutheran Church is tucked away from the hurley burley of life rushing around it.
It is, however, right across from the city recycling center that is about the only visibility the church has.
So, why is it growing, when so many other mainstream churches are seeing their congregations dwindle?
Gawrisch who has been with the church for 34 years has a simple answer: "It seems like the Lord is allowing the word we're privileged to preach to reach hearts."
He insists that he and the other two associate pastors are not doing anything extraordinary other than "striving to be faithful to the word of the Lord."
"We accept and teach exactly what the Bible says," Gawrisch said. "We're ordinary guys here, it wasn't us," he joked.
But still the congregation grows, with the third associate pastor added only last October. Growing too is the Star of Bethlehem School, serving about 165 students, ages 3 through eighth grade. The school will likely expand soon, Gawrisch said. The school will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year as the church turns golden.
New Berlin residents might be familiar with Star of Bethlehem from its participation in the city's Fourth of July parades. The last few times, the men's choir float won in a music category. This year, the choir also was asked at the last minute to sing the National Anthem before the city fireworks display. The gentlemen in the choir were ready, having once sung the National Anthem before a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game.
The church also holds Easter and Christmas programs for children, a summer Bible camp, and a safety town in the summer when public school teachers and police teach children going into kindergarten how to be safe.
In January, a new basketball program for ages 5 to 8 will start and church and school leaders are contemplating starting something like a soccer camp.
Church was new
Back in 1967, Star of Bethlehem also was new. Its first services were held in the basement of the New Berlin State Bank. Sixty-nine people were there. The congregation officially organized with eight charter families, according to the church history.
In 1970, the congregation dedicated its first church home. Seven years later, the school opened with 42 students and the church celebrated its 10th anniversary. In 1980, additions to the church and school were dedicated. A four-classroom and gym addition was built in 1997.
By 1990, the church was experiencing growing pains. Thursday night services were started to relieve overcrowding on Sunday mornings. Eight years later, Saturday night and Monday night services begin.
Gawrisch remembers folding chairs being set up in the aisles and in the entryway of the church to accommodate all who wanted to come. Finally, in June 2003 the church was razed and ground breaking held for a larger church to take its place. By then the school gym addition had been built, so the congregation met there for a year and a half while their new church was under construction.
On Oct. 17, 2004, they dedicated their new church.
While the pastors don't know how the church got its name, they do know that they don't hold with any of the natural explanations for the Star of Bethlehem that have been put forward over the centuries.
"It was a miraculous star that appeared when Jesus was born," Gawrisch said.
"The Bible calls it a star, we call it a star, too," said the Rev. Jacob Schwartz, the newest associate pastor to join the church.
Their position is backed up by no less than the Armagh Planetarium, Ireland's leading center for astronomy education.
"If the star observed by the Magi in the east really moved across the sky until it halted to hang over where the young child lay, we have moved beyond astronomy, as no natural object or event could do this," it says in its web discussion of theories for the Star of Bethlehem.
Nevertheless, the planetarium offers six theories that have been put forward about the star, all of which have significant objections, the astronomers said on its website http://www.armaghplanet.com/blog/6-theories-about-the-star-of-bethlehem.html. Could The Star have been:
Armagh Planetarium astronomers note that a comet was recorded by Chinese astronomers in 4 B.C., the year now believed to have been when Jesus was born. It was described as not having a tail. However, the Irish astronomers doubt that the three Wise Men would have packed up gifts and headed out to celebrate a good thing.
"Unfortunately, to the Magi (and throughout the cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East), comets were universally seen as harbingers of disaster. It is hard verging on impossible to see how they would have interpreted a comet as a good omen."
However, some scholars disagree. They say that comets were seen as both very good, signaling the births and deaths of kings and important victories or defeats in wars, or very bad.
Bright planet or star
"It is extremely unlikely that the Magi could have seen such familiar objects as these to be prophetic event," the Irish astronomers wrote.
A planetary conjunction
A conjunction, this time of Jupiter and Saturn, that seem to draw close to each other in the night sky, even though they are still millions of miles apart. Such a conjunction occurred three times in 7 B.C. in the constellation of Pisces, the Irish astronomers wrote. Astrologers equate Pisces with the Jews, so the theory is that the Magi would have seen the conjunctions as revealing an event important to Jews.
The Irish astronomers note two main objections to this being The Star: the conjunctions could not have guided the Magi through their journey because each one lasted only a few days; and a much closer and more stunning single conjunction is recorded in 66 BC that might have been expected to have brought the Three Wise Men to the Holy Land 66 years too soon.
However, Christianity Today has a different conjunction theory discussed online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/december/o-subtle-star-of-bethlehem.htmlChristianity. That theory involves a conjunction between the moon and Jupiter, associated with royalty.
A coin, minted in Antioch in the early 1st century, depicts a ram looking at a star. A researcher found evidence that Aries the Ram—not Pisces the Fish—was the zodiac symbol for Judea, Christianity Today writes. The researcher found that the rare conjunction of the moon and Jupiter happened twice in 6 B.C. in the constellation of Aries the Ram, concluding that such an occurrence would have gotten the attention of the Magi.
A nova is a huge explosion on the surface of a dead star, releasing so much energy that it seems that a star has been born. The Irish astronomers wonder, however, why the ancient astronomers of China, acute astronomical observers, did not record seeing a nova.
A supernova is a still more violent explosion that destroys the star. "A 'nearby' supernova would be a stunning sight in the sky," the astronomers at the Armagh Planetarium wrote. Again, the Chinese astronomers are silent about a new bright light in the sky and there are no known supernova remnants from the period, the Irish astronomers wrote.