Monday, December 7, 2020

Hope from the Stars

For many of you this won’t be news, but for those who haven’t heard, we’re in store for an exciting astronomical event this month. If you’ve been watching the night sky recently, you have probably noticed two large celestial bodies to the southwest—Jupiter and Saturn (our solar system’s two largest planets)—have been drawing increasingly closer to one another each night. And they’re drawing so near that we’re in pretty rarified air. Jupiter and Saturn get pretty close to each other once every 20 years or so, but on December 21, they will appear closer than they have since the year 1623. They'll be so close, in fact, that the two planets will essentially look like one.

This is extremely uncommon and I’m excited to witness it. But, in my opinion, that’s not nearly the coolest part of this story. There are a few other incredible aspects of this event.

First, this rare occasion where two planets appear (to the naked eye) as one, has a few names: the ‘Christmas Star’ or the ‘Star of Bethlehem.’ And then the second oddity of this story is that this celestial occurrence is just happening to take place on the longest and darkest night of the year—December 21—the Winter Solstice.

So, let’s recap what we know about this story:

On the darkest, longest, most-bleak night of the year…in the darkest, longest, most-bleak year in recent history…the Star of Bethlehem is about to show up in a way that it hasn’t in nearly 400 years.

I mean, come on! There’s no way that’s all true, is there?! Talk about a reason for hope!

I don’t really think and am not necessarily saying that God is purposefully and intentionally sending us this Christmas Star, the Star of Bethlehem, but it sure seems like perfect timing. We need to be reminded that no matter how dark and bleak life seems, God came before, He’s coming again, and, in fact, He’s already here in our presence.

As you stare to the sky in the coming weeks and then witness this astronomical phenomenon on December 21, may you be reminded that our God is still at work, is still showing up in our lives and our world, and can be hoped on during this long, bleak season of intense darkness. Watch and wait for Him. Hope and dream for Him. Longingly, yet patiently, search for Him. The Hope of the World is coming again—watch and see.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

A Lesson in the Lights

Those of you who know me well, know that I LOVE decorating for Christmas. And I especially love decorating the outside of my house. I generally add some new element to my Christmas adornments each year, so after 7 years of home ownership, the decorations are getting a little excessive.

I love pulling up to the house and seeing the lights on. I love sitting on the couch and talking as a family or reading a book, while the Christmas tree glows, the Nativity shines, and the outside lights fill the block with festivity. It’s peaceful. It’s special. It’s magical. And it truly fills my heart with joy.

But perhaps the better way to talk about this experience is that I love having my home decorated for Christmas—because I don’t always love the work it takes to get the house adorned. There are ladders to set up and constantly move. There are decorations to retrieve from hard-to-reach shelving. It’s always cold and usually snowy. You run out of daylight to work in since it’s dark by 5:00. And worst of all: the burnt-out bulbs, sections, and strands. Without fail, there is always the headache of fixing or replacing strands of lights…sometimes even after working while on the ground but mysteriously failing after installation. It can be maddening!

The process can be long, grueling, and frustrating, but the result leaves me with peace and joy, and allows my home to shine forth to our community as a beacon of light and hope.

Which is a pretty good way of thinking about spiritual formation. 

I don’t always enjoy the process of spiritual formation—the rigors of discipline, the early mornings in the Word when I’d rather be in bed, or the choosing of kind words over my preference for snark; loving my enemies when I’d rather seek vengeance or being intentionally attentive for God’s presence in our word when I’m tempted to tune out. Spiritual formation is really hard work and sometimes I’m not up to the challenge.

And yet I love the outcome of discipleship; of striving to follow Jesus more closely; of working out my salvation with fear and trembling. I love the peace and joy that come with a life devoted to Jesus. I love the courage and conviction that mysteriously emerges in my moments of doubt and despair. And I love the work that God is doing in me to help me shine forth into my community as a beacon of light and hope, just like my Christmas lights.

So, in this dark season of Advent waiting—especially in this uncertain time of global pandemic—where it would be easy to lose hope, get spiritually lethargic, and stop growing and progressing as followers of Jesus, let’s remember that the work is always worth it. Let’s commit to the hard work of spiritual formation—constantly striving to love God more deeply, love our neighbors more fully, and develop spiritual rhythms that help us to do each of those more beautifully. And may this be the best Advent ever, since we’ve practically perfected the art of waiting.