The Nativity Of The Lord
December 25, 2016
Most people have a very special “Christmas memory” from years gone by. Maybe we treasure the year we were snowed in and had no choice but to enjoy a simple celebration at home with our family. For some, there is the memory of foregoing gift exchange, and, instead, traveling to Hawaii for a family Christmas vacation. Floating in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean on Christmas Day is certainly a memory to hold onto! There are very often engagement rings unwrapped by the light of the Christmas tree; a moment not to be forgotten by the giver or the receiver.
While I have many special Christmas memories, a lot of them from my parish ministry, there is one that I think has enlightened all of the others. My memory is not of something that happened on December 24/25. In fact, my special Christmas memory tracks back to a hot summer evening. It is not something that happened with family, or in church, or as part of my ministry. Still, it is at the top of the list of my best memories.
In hopes of beating the heat, a friend and I decided to go to a “Christmas in July” offering at a local planetarium. We weren’t certain what to expect. We were simply hoping for an hour or two in free air-conditioning. From the moment we entered the small, round room with the high-domed ceiling, we knew we had made a good choice. It was actually chilly; and, it was a bit like being in church. Everyone gathered for the presentation sat quietly or were whispering to the people around them in hushed tones.
At the appointed time, a man with a “professorial air” about him came in and explained that he was going to display the night sky above our heads, and with the help of the star-making machine in the center of the room, and, of course, relying on science, replicate the night sky that hovered above Bethlehem on a winter’s night about 2000 years ago. With that, he plunged us into total darkness.
After our eyes were somewhat adjusted, we heard the “whir” of the star-making machine. In an instant, the dome of the small, round room was transformed into a brilliant, clear night sky. The professor of astronomy then began to orient us by using a laser pointer to indicate this planet and that galaxy. Once, we had a sense of the fact that, through science and technology, he had transported us to another time and place.
He began to explain the phenomena of what we Christians know as the Christmas star…the star that the three Magi saw rising in the East…the star that guided them to the place where they encountered Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus in Mary’s arms. The lecture was certainly not religious, but neither was the professor critical of what is reported in the Gospels. He simply described how astronomy was able to confirm that a celestial event occurred at a specific time and place. Through the technology of a planetarium, he was able to replicate the experience for us on a sweltering July evening.
Sitting in a comfortable chair in a cool, dark room, looking up into the replication of a long ago night sky was, for me, a very special Christmas memory. It made me feel like I was there. It helped me enter more deeply into the sacred mystery of how all creation responds to God’s will and helps to make God’s plans reality. That lecture in astronomy was as enlightening, possibly even more so, than a theology lecture. Watching a brilliant globe of dazzling light rise in the east and make its way across the night sky was a profound and very moving experience.
The “whir” of the star machine faded into the background. What I was hearing, not with my ears but with my heart, was the heavenly choir singing Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests! I could smell farm animals and straw; obviously not with my nose, but through the power of creative religious imagination. I became less interested in the scientific explanation and simply enjoyed the spiritual experience of being there…in Bethlehem…under the magnificent light of the Christmas Star that shone in a dark, cool, round room. That summer night, I truly paid homage to the child born to the Virgin named Mary!
The take-away from that very special “Christmas in July” memory?
Being snowbound with loved ones can be very joyful. But, we are always time-bound with all of humanity that lives on this small little planet Earth with us. And while we share time…we should strive every day of the year to share as well the message the shepherds were privileged to hear: Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim GOOD NEWS of great joy that will be for all the people. A savior has been born for you Who is Messiah and Lord!
Beautiful beaches and warm tropical waters are certainly something to enjoy. But the heavens are telling the glory of God, and all of creation is shouting for joy! Nature is one of God’s ways of revealing Divine power and the loving care our Creator offers each of us. The entire universe is constantly proclaiming God’s love; all the time moving towards that day when Christ’s glory will, once again, fill the dark sky. We, in turn, must care for this great gift…the gift that proclaims the wonder and glory of God!
The giving and receiving of gifts is the thing that special Christmas memories are made of…especially engagement rings. But, on that Holy Night in Bethlehem…God made a proposal to all people of all ages…I will be your God if you will be my people! God has been unfailing in His commitment to this relationship; we should strive to be, as well, and not just on Christmas.
May God grant you a very special Christmas memory each and every day of the coming year, together with the wisdom to accept, treasure, and share the experience.