Monday, December 21, 2020

Blue Christmas: Darkness and the “Christmas Star”

We did not see the star. Or rather, we didn’t see the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter known as the “Christmas Star.” A group of friends and I converged, masked, bundled up, and distanced, in the middle of a large field in the suburbs. That was where we thought the view would be best. And it probably would have been. If it hadn’t been so cloudy.

Long before I bundled up and drove 45 minutes in the sprinkling rain, I knew what I was going to write about tonight. Today was the shortest day of the year. Tonight is the longest night. In the church year calendar, some refer to tonight at Blue Christmas. It is a time to reflect and lament the hurt and brokenness that exists in our world and acknowledge that our God is a God who hears and sees us in our deepest need. In a way, tonight is the epitome of Advent.

As I was looking online for photos from those who did see the “star,” I ran across many Twitter posts with blurry, yet amazing snapshots of a bright spot in the sky. (Check out #StarofBethlehem or #ChristmasStar for yourself!) We stargazers were all looking for a glimpse of light, but the thing is, the best pictures were those taken from a position of deep darkness.

If Advent teaches us anything, it is this: we need darkness in order to more brilliantly see the Light.

At the end of this weary year, what a glorious thing for us to seek. A conjunction of planets shoots us right back to that night in Bethlehem. We can imagine we are the shepherds, or Mary, or Joseph, or the Wise Men. Or just an ordinary person in Judea, waiting for the Promised One.

One Twitter-poster said it best:

In the midst of so much pain. Jesus shows up. But He always shows up. We simply need to look. This symbol, which comes near Christmas, is a reminder of the season, His love and so much more.
Even hidden behind clouds and light pollution, we know the “Christmas Star” was there, shining bright. Isn’t that how life often looks?

There’s a verse at the end of the famed 1 Corinthians 13 Love passage that speaks to this:
For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
The “then” refers to “when the perfect comes” from verse 10. Perfect what? Perfect love. Paul finishes the chapter with this: "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Scripture is full of contrasts. God knows how such comparisons help our brain rationalize more clearly and our hearts feel more deeply. Every darkness is intentional. Each brilliant light serves a purpose.
  • The land of Israel was in deep darkness. Until “on them a light has shone.”

  • Mary gave birth to Jesus in a strange town, in a leftover, dusty room. Until a brilliant star appeared to light the Bethlehem sky.

  • The shepherds watched their sheep on a dark hill as social outcasts and smelly misfits. Until a host of angels appeared and “glories streamed from heaven a far.”

The Light in Bethlehem was a symbol of God’s love.

In her essay “On them a light was shone,” Hannah Brencher remarks,
This light was embedded into the story hundreds of years before it even happened, through the prophet Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone.”

. . . Of course, this light mentioned here is not the star in the sky but Jesus, himself, coming into the picture. It is through his coming-- him shaking up the story-- that the light pours through and gives us hope that better is on the way.
Tonight, the planets Jupiter and Saturn were the closest they’ve been in hundreds of years. Scientists theorize that such a convergence could have been how the Bethlehem Star shone so brightly 2000 years ago. We may never know.  But this we do know: We live in a broken world. And it often seems like we are staring at hope from behind a blanket of clouds or a dark, lonely place. But wait for the Light. It is there. It will shine. According to His great love.

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