I have always loved starry nights in all their various appearances and incarnations.
The Starry Night is my favorite Van Gogh painting, and Don Mclean’s “Vincent” (most often identified by its opening line “Starry, Starry Night”) is one of my favorite songs.
Among my most cherished memories of the years Bill and I spent on the farm were those summer nights on the patio where we sat and watched the stars come out and then, as darkness blanketed the landscape, saw the scene mirrored at ground level as the fireflies blinked and danced over the lush fields of corn and soybeans.
And this time of year, my mind is captivated by the starry imagery of the Christmas story. I can close my eyes and imagine the shepherds gazing upward into a sparkling starlit sky, transfixed at the joyous news that heavenly host is proclaiming, as well as visualize the stunning radiance of that one star that guided the Magi to the Holy Child.
It wasn’t always so. When I lost Bill, the stars – and all the other lights in my life - seemed to go out; everything was dark, murky, shrouded in mist. It took a long time for color and light to creep back into my life. (For the past three years my Christmas tree has been oh-so-symbolically decorated in gold, silver, and blue. This year it is gold, silver, and red.)
In the first chapter of John’s gospel, he insists in his very grown-up take on the Christmas story (no angels, no shepherds, no infant), that “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) The stars still shine, independent of my ability to see them, created and hung in the heavens by the One who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds, [who] determines the number of the stars and calls them by name.” (Psalm 147:3-4)
I was grateful for those words of hope and grace. This season is at the same time joyous and celebratory, yet still bittersweet and challenging for me. The truth is, though, that’s true in some measure for everybody and it always has been. It’s “the most wonderful time of the year”, but it isn’t always all wonderful. To borrow a pun from my friend Jen, (you can find her work on Facebook or on Instagram @cobbleworks), some of it is “awe-full”; some of it is just plain awful, and it was that way for Mary and Joseph too.
“Awe” doesn’t even begin to encompass things like being visited by angels, birthing the Holy, having wealthy strangers from the East travel a great distance to pay homage to your newborn. Much of the rest of it was beyond horrible. Those angelic visits came with a lot of baggage and wagging tongues. I can’t imagine how difficult the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem had to be when one is “great with child”, not to mention things like Herod’s decree and the flight to Egypt.
For us, it is short days and long, dark nights, overcrowded schedules, cold and flu season, bad weather (there are tornado warnings in my county as I type this), sensory overload, the bane of expectations, and more. Even if we’ve been intentional about focusing on the reason for the season and preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ, we can find ourselves blindsided by events and emotions beyond our control that leave us fried and frazzled, not merry and bright.
For you, for me, for all of us this Christmas, however the season finds you – starry-eyed or lost in a fog, whether your heart is broken, mended, full to bursting, or various incarnations of those - this is my prayer:
May hope be born in you anew this Holy season.
May wisdom travel with you, illuminating your path.
May joy lighten your step and brighten your days.
May tears, when they come, wash away weariness, sadness, and fear, healing your spirit and cleansing your soul.
May the light of God’s love burn brightly in your heart, this day, and always.
And may the promise of peace on earth and goodwill to all become reality, now and forever.
Scheduling note: I’ll be taking a break from the blog over the holidays. I’ll see you back here in January.