On the darkest day of a very dark year, Farm Girl finds this carved little star left out for her next to a steaming cup of coffee with her favorite chocolate treat and the girl flashes me this knowing grin.
The darkness cracks a bit. It only takes a small act of kindness to make the darkness shrink back.
A few hours later, rifling through a stack of envelopes out at the mailbox, I find a piece of paper, tucked in between a grocery flyer for bananas for 69 cents and a propane bill, with a word from the Lord scrawled across it smudged blue ink, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the sea….“ Looks like what I call the Light Bomber, she’s struck again the last few days before Christmas, slipping these love notes from the Word in our mailbox every couple of weeks all fall, like they’ll loan us strength as we stumble through a bruising year.
I leave the note by the sink, like it’s a blazing wick of hope in a hard year.
Small candles can cut through great darkness.
When I find the carved little wooden star later that afternoon next to a surprisingly sparkling clean oven, like a kind light’s leaving behind its calling card, I wink at Farmgirl acting all oblivious.
While Farmgirl helps me wrap up a package for a family ache-grieving the lost of their newborn, she’s quietly singing that hymn of hers like it’s the way she breathes, like the way we can keep praying, “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart…. Thou my best thought, by day or by night; Waking or sleeping, thy presence, my light.”
The little carved star’s laying there on the counter. In a world heavy with lament, we’re meant to be light.
More than needing some Secret Santa, this is the year we need some brazen light, that we surprise each other with these quiet acts of kindness and pass on the light, be the light, keep our eyes open for the light.
“Can I pass the star on now?! Pulllleeassse??” Baby Girl’s jumping up and down.
I kneel down for her to takes the little wooden star from my open palm. She holds it up to the window.
“You keep passing that little Christmas star on, one surprising little act of kindness at a time. And then come Christmas Eve — you can place your star right there at the manger — and all the kindnesses you did, all the kind light you passed on — it’s your gift to Jesus, being His kind of light in a dark world.”
Baby Girl smiles her toothless giddiness.
And on the darkest night of the year, in the year of our Lord 2020, a year that’s clearly seen a war over truth, seen gaping cultural divides, seen deep divisions over racism, and seen more than 1.7 million gasp their last laboured breath before falling prey to a pandemic sweeping the globe, the two largest planets in the solar system align the closest that’s been seen from this pale blue dot of Earth, since 1226.
In 1226, medieval craftsman were toiling away at the rising of the cathedral of Notre Dame.
Somewhere over Notre Dame’s gargoyles, the two milky-white orbs met in the heavens, and the ancients paused in awe.
When the greatest planets meet in this great conjunction in the dark skies, ancients and moderns alike look up at the converging light, and ask with hushed wonder, “What is this great message from on high?”
When there’s a conjunction in the skies, human beings wonder about their partnership with the God of wonders.
The greater our sense of awe, the greater our sense of connection.
When we are in awe, we move beyond ourselves, into something greater than self.
Jupiter and Saturn connecting in the Christmas skies over all our upturned faces in a once in nearly thousand year moment moves us with awe to see how connected we are to all the other holy souls on this planet.
Maybe this is the very year of the last 800 years that most needs us to look up to the starry heavens to a blazing Christmas star drawing us all to focus less on self, and focus on how to be light for others.
This is the year to look up at great stars and feel small with great awe. Because whenever we feel small with awe, we love each other large.
“Awe is more than an emotion; [awe] is a way of understanding,” wrote Rabbi Abraham Heschel. And it’s true: Stand in awe and you understand how you can do nothing less than stretch your hands out to help your brothers and sisters stand.
Awe is more than a feeling of being deeply moved, it’s a fuel that moves you to deeply love other human beings.
When we live full of awe, we are moved to change what is awful in the world.
From the curve of the earth in the hours before Christmas, the planets converge, close and blazing, and the stars, twinkling like fireflies finding each other in the dark, seem so close, and all of us, though feeling as distant and far apart as the stars this year, we can all be this constellation of kind, giving light to each other, connected and close.
I find a carved wooden star left atop a stack of folded laundry, a little carved star left on the pillow of a made bed. I leave a star on a plate of cookies, a star next to to a note about a foot massage. A friend drops off some needed meds in the mailbox, a neighbour leaves a box of oranges at the back door, we check in on some elderly folks, us all converging this time of year, in all the ways we can, to connect and blaze like the hope of Christmas.
Baby Girl draws me a picture of a night sky full of stars, leaves it as a surprise on my desk with a star.
“See? We’re making light everywhere, stars everywhere!” She’s beaming, pure light.
And I smile. Awed.
Like the stars, we can be a light to each other and seem a lot closer than we are.
And maybe that is what is brilliantly written into the stars, the skies, in the darkest night of the year, in one of the darkest year in living memory:
In the year 2020, we can clearly see that there’s always a way to be light in the dark.
All the stars all “declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps. 19) and like those first shepherds, thousands of years ago, we look up to the glory of Christmas star and hear again this Christmas what the heavens still herald:
Be awed by God, and on earth, reach out with love to all men. Amen.
Begin a new Christmas tradition with our new family book:
The Light Gift features beautiful, hand painted water color illustrations, delightful hidden details of a secret hedgehog tucked on each page, and a truly powerful life-transforming message that’s not just for the kids — but for the searching heart of us all.
Come let the light of Jesus blaze warm in this hard year.
This Advent, Stay in the Story that the rest of your year, your family, will need.
3 Award-Winning books for the Whole Family
- The Greatest Gift (adult edition): Christian Retailing’s Best award, 2014
- Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (Family Edition): Best Inspirational Book of the Year, CBA, 2016
- The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: Best Devotional & Gift Book of the Year, CBA, 2019, (pop-up edition with your own 14 inch tree, 25 days of readings, 25 day advent flap calendar, hiding all 25 Biblically inspired ornaments! For any age)