a little r & r
One of René’s and my favorite books of Advent and Christmas meditations is Ann Weems’ Kneeling in Bethlehem. The book has been around a while, but it is timeless in capturing the spirit of this season. Here is one entry titled “In December Darkness”:
The whole world waits in December darkness
for a glimpse of the Light of God.
Even those who snarl “Humbug!”
and chase away the carolers
have been seen looking toward the skies.
The one who declared he never would forgive
and those who left home
and even wars are halted,
as the whole world looks starward.
In the December darkness
we peer from our windows
watching for an angel with rainbow wings
to announce the Hope of the World.
Our times have become times of worry, desperation, pessimism, and even cynicism. Being quarantined or simply observing “stay at home” CDC instructions is enough to make us think we are stuck in the slough of despond with little or no way out. It is so easy to perceive nothing but darkness and believe life has failed us. It is as if we are in exile, as indeed we are compared to pre-pandemic days.
But the Jewish-Christian faith is about acknowledging that neither darkness nor death have the final word, as Ann Weems poem suggests. Our faith never crumples under the weight of despair. In fact, for us it is about believing in impossible possibilities.
On December 21, the Winter Solstice, just such an impossible possibility will occur. We are about to see an incredible event when the two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn will directly align themselves for the first time in 800 years! This “Jupiter-Saturn maximum conjunction” will happen near dusk on Monday, the 21st, at approximately 17 degrees on the southwestern horizon. Saturn will appear to overtake Jupiter and come within only 0.1 degrees from one another, giving the sense of a double planet. For more details you can listen for weather reports or look this up on your browser, including news of the next such conjunction in 2080, when our children or grandchildren will be 60 years older.
What makes this a very special occasion is that the conjunction of the two planets should be visible to the naked eye. Furthermore, there is speculation that it was a similar maximum conjunction, which formed “the Star of Bethlehem,” at the time of Jesus’ birth in the year 4 B.C.E. At that point in human history it was popularly assumed that such a rare occurrence was a divine signal of a royal birth. Matthew’s nativity narrative describes Magi in the East (technically from Persia—modern day Iran) gazing at the night sky when they saw the star and followed it to the stable in Bethlehem.
This last Sunday René read the tag line of the day’s scripture, Luke 1:37, “Nothing is impossible for God.” The text refers to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that not only Mary will conceive God’s special child, the Messiah, but Mary’s elderly cousin Elizabeth was also carrying a child—John the Baptist.
By referring to God’s impossible possibilities the scriptures, like from Luke, are not suggesting that we are to think of ourselves as living in some bubble of unreality we make up to confirm our prejudices. God’s impossible possibilities are quite positive, hopeful, and in a true literal sense, enlightening.
These impossible possibilities also are not reserved for some “pie-in-the-sky” future, which dismisses our earthly existence as ignoble and dispensable. We aren’t talking trash, though not the kind of trash talking on a sports field or court. God’s impossible possibilities are always about an alternative future for life as we experience it today and not solely for some heaven far away. God is a very down to earth God. It’s why the names of that famous-infamous first couple, Adam and Eve can be translated “groundling” or “earth being.” “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof!” as Psalm 24 says.
So, God’s promise is not just for “a new heaven,” but also “a new earth.” And this is what we await every Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and throughout the year: a new earth as well as a new heaven. And so, once again I would say like the late astronomer and “Star Gazer,” Jack Horkheimer, “Keep looking up!”
Remember Dusk Monday, December 21!