Our theme throughout Advent has been Learning to Walk in the Dark by the luminous light of the moon or starlight. Throughout scripture, we find multiple references to God’s creation in the night sky.
Psalm 8:3 “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, who are we that you are mindful of us human beings – that you care for us?”
One of the ways stars show up in Jewish tradition and ritual is by signaling the end of the Sabbath. The Jewish ritual of Shabbat, like all Jewish days, begins at sunset because in the story of creation,
“And there was evening, and there was morning, one day.”
Shabbat is ushered in by lighting candles, and reciting a blessing. Sabbath is a Festive day when Jews exercise their freedom from regular labor. It’s an opportunity to contemplate the spiritual aspects of one’s life and spend time with family. According to the rabbis, the Sabbath concludes when 3 stars are visible in the night sky, approximately 40 minutes after sunset. Why 3 I wonder? And then I wonder if it is about the number, or more about the spiritual practice of paying attention.
Madeleine L’Engle shares a childhood memory. Her family was in Florida on an uninhabited beach before the advent of light pollution.
“It must have been an unusually beautiful night for someone to have said, ‘Let’s wake the baby and show her the stars.’ The night sky, the constant rolling of breakers against the shore, the stupendous light of the stars -made an indelible impression on me. I was intuitively aware that the world was far greater than my child’s view which was all that I had known. A moment of revelation; I saw creation bursting the bounds of restriction and stretching out from dimension to dimension, beyond any human comprehension. This early experience was freeing, rather than daunting, and it has been the foundation for all other such glimpses of glory.”
The skies are full of amazing happenings and if we are paying attention we can receive such glimpses of God’s glory made manifest. Do you remember a vast migration of thousands of people south to Oregon for a few hours in August 2017 in oder to don special glasses to experience 2 whole minutes of TOTALITY of the Solar Eclipse? People were enraptured by the dramatic chill & darkness in the middle of the day, when the Corona burst through – And the light shines through the darkness…It was almost as if I could hear an echo of Handel’s Messiah as we experienced it with the masses at the Salem Fairgrounds “..and All peoples shall see it together.” It did feel like a glimpse of God’s glory.
Roughly, every 76 years, Halley’s comet comes within 40 million miles of the earth. In 1910, it came even closer – within 14 million miles of the earth – causing an unusually bright sky. People were afraid, and rumor has it that entrepreneurs (aka scammers) sold “Anti-Comet Pills” for $1 a piece that purportedly would protect one from comet gases penetrating the atmosphere. 76 years later, in 1986, the best place to witness Halley’s comet apparently was down under in Australia & NZ. There was literally no room at the inn so the government appealed to citizens to rent out their homes to garner tourist dollars. For a mere $8k, you could book a cruise traveling with Carl Sagan, renowned astronomer & astrophysicist, to listen to brilliant lectures about the comet’s tail some 40 million miles away.
For centuries people have been fascinated by what happens in the heavens. 2000 years ago an event in the night sky communicated a message from God. Many have tried to identify the nature of the star in the Gospel of Matthew. Some say it was Halley’s Comet, which appears roughly every 76 years and could have been seen approximately 12 BCE, so the math would be slightly off AND a comet wouldn’t just stop & stay over a specific place. Others suggest it may have been a cluster of bright stars, a supernova explosion or even a planet. To the human eye, planets CAN look like stars. Curiously, the word planet comes from the Greek word for “wandering star”. The behavior of this particular “star” described by Matthew is mystifying and cannot be accounted for by astronomy. Stars are stationary; they don’t move then stop, but this star apparently “went before” the magi “and there it did both stop & stay, right over the place where Jesus lay.
Whatever it was, however it happened, something wondrous occurred as the Magi listened deeply to how God was speaking into creation and the natural world of the night sky. I wonder if the magi would describe it in a similar way to what Madeleine L’Engle experienced, “…as the foundation for all other such glimpses of glory.” The brilliance of the stars overhead, the radiance of this one star out-shining all the others. Matthew writes that the revelation of this new star in the east inspired the magi to set out on their pilgrimage, to find their way by navigating the celestial heavens.
In the Disney movie Moana, the protagonist wants to save her people and must restore the heart of the ocean. She meets up with the demi-god Maui & begs him: “Teach me to sail!” Moana doesn’t know how to sail, or how to use the stars as a guide. Maui replies, “It’s called Wayfinding, Princess,” which is an ancient Polynesian practice of navigating the ocean – observing the swells of the water & the stars in they sky. It’s more than geographical orientation & nautical skill.
“It’s not just sails & knots. It’s seeing where you’re going in your mind. And knowing where you are, by knowing where you’ve been.”
Learning to Walk in the Dark & our journey to the manger is about Wayfinding and paying attention to glimpses of God’s glory & manifestation in our midst. It’s about knowing who we are -remembering who we are, and who we belong to – through the incarnation of God. Later, the first Christians who followed Jesus would be called the People of the Way. Could we be so bold to call ourselves Wayfinders? Trusting where God is leading us, trusting THAT God is leading – even in the dark.
“Christ was not born because the star shone forth, but it shone forth because Christ was born.”
Dante says it this way in describing God in The Divine Comedy, as
“The Love that moves the Stars”.
Carl Sagan, astronomer & Astrophysicist, said that we, as well as most of the matter on Earth, are literally made of the stuff of stars – we are star dust.
“We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.”
So…you Wayfinders we are made of star stuff…we are made of the light of God. We hold the One born in the light of the stable within our very being, the One named Emmanuel – born to be God With us and God within us. As we journey to the manger by Learning to Walk in the Dark, may the incarnation of Christ be the foundation for all other such glimpses of glory.”
Listen to these words from Madeleine L’Engle’s poem, “Epiphany”:
“Unclench your fists – Hold out your hands. Take mine.
Let us hold each other. Thus is God’s Glory Manifest.”