Star of Wonder

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is. 9:2a)

We live in the twilight, in a land of uncertain shadows and pockets of night. As the partial light shifts, so do our perceptions. Our searching feet grope for the path ahead; our fumbling hands fail us; we struggle to recognize friend from foe. We need a light that will not go out.

In a world where fire was the only defense against darkness, our ancestors worshiped the stars. Those ghostly, inexplicable lights in the sky represented warmth, sight, travel, food, in short: life. To the ancients, the stars revealed signs and omens, activity in the heavenly realm which directed the earth below. Consider the tides, magnetic fields, asteroids and eclipses which show us they were not altogether wrong. And when an image was wanted to describe the brightness of an angel who fell from grace, he was likened to a star (Is. 14:12). But that so-called “son of the dawn” brought only more darkness as he tumbled to earth.

But at Christmas time we remember that God placed a brilliant star in the heavenly night to announce the coming of the Light of the world (John 8:12). That glorious star was a portent, as of a god or a god-man, the promise of a greater light to come. Very few recognized its significance and perhaps fewer still walked its rays to find the source of its secret: a baby in a manger who is called the bright, morning star (Rev. 22:16). In this case “morning star” means the sun, the brightest star in our sky, a symbol for God Himself (Ps. 84:11). He came to help us see the world as it is, to see one another in love and to illuminate His Father, the God of creation and redemption.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that even now we see only dimly. The light of God is shrouded by the clouds of our atmosphere. The broken pieces of the world refract its brilliance, creating the shadows we fear. But a day has been promised to us when the shadows shall all flee, when our confusion shall be at an end, when no fire or moon or physical sun will be needed because there will be no more darkness (Rev. 22:5). We hold in our hands the lamp of God’s word which shines its rays into the circle of our existence, but even that flame is a temporary measure.

When you watch the lights twinkle on your Christmas tree or your neighbor’s shrubbery, when you admire all the stars decorating the cards in your mailbox, when you notice that streak of glory riding high over every nativity scene this holiday season, remember that it is a flickering reminder of the true light which came into the world two thousand years ago and will come once again. Be comforted and encouraged until the day dawns and the morning star rises (2 Peter 1:19) in all its final, celestial glory.

Let us, with the humble shepherds and prescient wise men, come to Him this Christmas – and SEE.


If this time of year is difficult for you, see our help-for-the-holidays handout.

Reimagining Mary

The Nativity scene.

Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)

Sweet Mary. Beatific, maternal, pale and serene, she appears quite other-worldly in our Christmas nativities. An angel proclaimed that she would be called “blessed,” and so she has been. From time to time she has even been elevated beyond her human state, a sort of demi-goddess, interceding between earth and heaven, the perfect mother of a perfect Son.

 

At the risk of shocking your sensibilities, I want to suggest a different portrait altogether. Mary is a well-known celebrity today, but she began as a nobody. Before God approached her through the Angel Gabriel, she counted for very little. She was probably an adolescent, probably poor, possibly an orphan, but we really don’t know. Like thousands of young Jewish girls of her time and place, she walked unnoticed through the world, valuable largely as an extra pair of hands. Her life was measured by her utility, and she was nothing special in that regard. Picture her in your mind as not particularly beautiful, not particularly bright, not particularly talented. Pockmarks, acne, missing teeth, a bit clumsy, too talkative, her laugh annoying, her gait ungainly, all these are possible. Perhaps it feels blasphemous to see her that way, but it is probably closer to the truth than the enhanced, marbleized and haloed versions we typically imagine. Her son, fashioned from only one set of human genes, “had no beauty that we should desire him.” (Is. 53:2)

 

Mary found inexplicable favor with God. This she was told when she received the gift of the Christ, placed inside her body by the singular action of the Holy Spirit. He approached her, chose her, implanted divinity inside her, that she might bear God’s only Son into the world. She was nothing, and then she was amazing – fertile, lovely, loved, important, meaningful, glorious and blessed – not because she stood out from the crowd but because God chose her, acted upon her and lived within her.

 

Astonishing and alarming as it may seem, this is also God’s work in you. We were born as Mary was, ordinary, broken people, chosen by God to be changed. As Christians, we now carry the Christ within our hearts as she carried Him in her womb, that we might bear God’s only Son into the world. Our mission, like Mary’s, comes through pain and struggle. It is a commission to be accepted rather than an honor to be earned. The Divine inside transforms the ordinary. No matter who or where you are, you began as nothing, but now you are amazing – fertile, lovely, loved, important, meaningful, glorious and blessed – because God chose you, acted upon you and lives within you. Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God. Rejoice, as Mary did, and bear Jesus into the world, your world, with peace and joy this Christmas.

 

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. (Luke 1:46-48)

 


I am indebted to Pastor John Haralson of Seattle, Washington for the idea for this devotion.  https://www.graceseattle.org/resources/sermon/3268/mary-filled-with-christ

Isn’t Christmas Just the Best Story?

Christmas nativity scene of the birth of Jesus depicted with figurines

Most of our major holidays have a story associated with them (maybe not Labor Day, but you get the point). And most of those stories concern a war, a battle or a tragedy. Even Thanksgiving is about starving colonists in the howling wilderness who were barely saved (many were not) by the generous aid of the neighbors with whom they would soon be locked in desperate combat. Chanukah, the festival of light, concerns a bloody revolt punctuated by eight days of miraculous illumination. The Fourth of July, well… you know. They are all good tales in their own right, but they aren’t cozy bedtime stories!

 

But isn’t Christmas just the best story? In fact, I can say it that way because it’s not just a holiday; it IS a story, the Christmas story. A poor, ordinary couple traveling through the countryside toward their ancestral village delivers a baby in a stable because the town is too crowded to notice them. Surrounded by sleepy animals and awe-struck shepherds, they cradle their newborn under the light of a marvelous new star. And that newborn turns out to be God Himself, come to share the world with all of us. Have joy, peace and beauty ever written a better script?

 

If you want bloody battles and warrior heroes, you can look to Easter. But for now, I hope you take a few moments of your day this Thursday to remember the tranquil, graceful story of love that we celebrate at Christmas.

 


Holiday Resources:

Advent Devotional Booklet

Help for the Holidays Handout