This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached at our annual Blue Christmas service in 2021. Blue Christmas is a special service designed for people who find the holidays difficult. The gospel I preached on was John 1:1-14.
When we think of the night sky at Christmas, I think we tend to think of two things. We think of the Bethlehem star, the bright star that shone in the sky, leading the wise men from the east to see the Christ child. And we think of the angels, the heavenly host who appeared before a group of shepherds to proclaim, “Gloria in the highest heaven!”
These are both bright and showy events in the sky, unmistakable, unmissable, that led the wise men and the shepherds to great joy and awe. Reminds me a little bit of the solar eclipse I saw a few years ago. In August 2017, I took my kid, who was then eight, to Kentucky for a few days. Along the way, we visited a zoo and some playgrounds, stopped for fast food and milkshakes, but the main event, the main reason we were there, happened in the afternoon of August 19. We sat in a field across the street from our hotel, with our special eclipse glasses on, and we watched as the sun slowly got smaller and smaller. And then, within just a minute, the whole world got dark, streetlights came on, the temperature dropped at least ten degrees, and the sun was gone, hidden behind the moon. For three minutes, it looked to me like there was a hole ripped in the universe itself.
It was mind-blowing and amazing. I sat there, my mouth hanging open, praising God for the beauty and the wonder and the magnificence. I guess it was maybe a little like what the shepherds and the wise men experienced.
Wouldn’t we all like to see something like that right now? Wouldn’t we all, especially those of us who come to this service, wouldn’t we like to look up in the sky and see a sight that changes everything? A sight that makes all the pain, all the grief, go away. A sight that shows us beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is here, that God loves us, that everything is going to be okay? Don’t we need that right now?
The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light, Isaiah said. Where is that light? Where? How can we see it?
About two months ago, someone very dear to me died. Someone I cared about very much, even though I hadn’t seen her in years. Her name was Nina, and she was more or less my second mother while I was growing up. Her son Steve and I were best friends throughout childhood, and I spent almost as much time at their house as I did at my own. And even when Steve and I went our own separate ways, to different colleges and different careers, I stayed in touch with Nina. She always cared about me. She always believed in me and took me seriously, even in those phases in my life when it was easy not to. Until just a few months ago, she sent me notes and emails regularly, just to tell me that she loved me and was thinking about me. If she had been alive last month when I spent two weeks in recovery from a really bad depression, I know she would have found out, and reached out to me to share her love and support. I miss Nina. The world seems a little smaller, a little emptier now without her.
I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to officiate at a memorial service for Nina. And as I prepared my sermon for that service, I remembered a special time that she and I shared when I was in college. Nina invited me over to her house one evening to sit outside and watch a meteor shower. It was just the two of us, because Steve was away, working at Bear Creek Camp for the summer. Nina and I sat in lawn chairs on her front lawn, staring up at a dark starlit sky. We just sat and watched. And waited. And suddenly, a small, bright flash of light for just an instant! And then it was gone. We waited again. And watched. And suddenly, another flash of light! And it was gone. It was like that for two hours. We watched as tiny streaks of light appeared for just seconds in the sky.
I reflected in my funeral sermon how Nina had been like a meteor shower in my life, sending me tiny beacons of love at unexpected times. Tiny beacons that weren’t showy or majestic like an eclipse, but were filled with love and hope.
Just last week was the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower. Every year in December the sky puts on a show, and I read that the best time to watch them was very early one particular morning, at about 3:00 am. When I went to bed the night before, I considered getting up early to see them, but it was so cold and I was so tired. I just didn’t have the energy to get up and sit outside in the middle of the night. As much as I wanted to see them, I just couldn’t. When my alarm woke me up at 6:00, I went outside to get the paper. It was still dark at six, and I was surprised that it wasn’t as cold as I expected. I shook my head and mumbled, “Sorry, Nina.” As I walked toward the mailbox, I looked up, and suddenly. FLASH! I saw a meteor streak across the sky right in front of me. As I stared dumbfounded, FLASH! A second one went past.
I looked for a few minutes longer, and didn’t see anymore. But perhaps two was enough. Because I felt love. I felt seen. I felt like Nina was watching. I felt like God was winking at me. And perhaps, that’s the message of Christmas. As kids we get distracted by all the bright lights, and the songs, and of course, the presents. Those are great things! But maybe the real message of Christmas isn’t any of that showy stuff. The real message of Christmas is that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. And maybe in a year when everything looks so very dark, God’s light shines on us not like a spectacular host of angels, nor like a bright star shining majestically in the west, but like a pair of meteors.
God’s love is quiet and surprising, like shooting stars in the night sky. So often we miss it. But if we look, if we pay attention, it’s there. It’s always there. Shining like a beacon guiding us to hope. Shining like a pearl waiting to be discovered. Shining like a diamond reflecting its light upon the whole world. Shining like a snowflake slowly drifting and alighting where it likes. Shining like the morning star, promising that the dawn is on its way.
Christmas isn’t going to fix whatever you’re going through this year. The pain, the grief, will still be there even though the calendar says twenty-five. But that light is shining, giving you glimpses. Glimpses of hope. Glimpses of life. Glimpses of peace.
Look up in the night sky. It may look dark, and it is. But within that darkness there is light. There is hope. There is Christ.