The Night Sky At Christmas

Blue Stary Lights(Creative Commons Image by Shane Pope on Flickr)

We do a Blue Christmas service every year for those coping with loss. Preaching for it is one of the profound experiences of ministry.

Blue Christmas deals with darkness. When you experience loss, the world becomes a darker place, and Christmas is not very joyful celebrated in the dark.

Which is why the Christmas star may be a useful symbol for Blue Christmas.

We cannot see stars until the sun goes down. We can see them well only when the light of the moon disappears. It is against a backdrop of utter darkness that stars shine most brightly.

When surrounded by darkness, it does no good to pretend the sun is shining. There is no point in telling those who live among the shadows, “Pull yourself together. You need a more positive outlook.” That’s sheer nonsense.

I remember from my youth a Peanuts cartoon in which a couple of the characters notice Snoopy standing out in the rain. They decide to cheer him up. So they walk over to the dog and say, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy.”

They walk off, feeling pleased with their compassion, leaving Snoopy feeling bewildered rather than comforted.

Darkness is not something that can be overcome by a pep talk, or by willpower. It does no good to hear, “The sun will come up tomorrow.” Yeah, it probably will, but it isn’t shining now.

Nor does life return, following a deep loss, to the way it was. Yes, we come to grips with reality. We learn to cope with loss. We recognize even in loss that we have so much to be thankful for. We return to our normal schedules. We can experience joy and happiness with the same intensity as we did before.

But when the sun comes up tomorrow it won’t be the same sun that came up in the past. The world, for all its beauty and blessings, will always be a slightly darker place, because there is a light missing.

Psalm 88 asks the grief-filled question of all who have suffered loss. “Are your wonders known in the darkness?”

The Christmas star declares that not only are God’s wonders known in the darkness but, like the stars, they can appear more clearly against the backdrop of darkness.

Jesus came to save the lost. Those in pain. Those who walk in darkness.

When the sun is shining in our lives, when we are affluent and happy and successful, we don’t feel a desperate need for Jesus. We may not even be able to see him amid all that light. But when all is dark, the message of Christmas, that God loves us so much that God is willing to do just about anything for us, even to the point of coming to live among us in lowly circumstances, shines clearly.

The deepest darkness never drowns out the light of the star. In fact, the greater the darkness, the more brightly shines the star.

The message of the Christmas star is not that God suddenly appears to comfort us in times of loss and pain. God does not wait on standby for our emergency call and come running when we ring.

The stars do not come out at night. They are always with us. It’s just that in times of darkness, we can see them so much better.

God is there at all times. But God shines most intensely against the backdrop of the darkness of our world.

I once heard a pastor say that suffering is the knife that cuts us deeply so that the love of Christ can fill us even fuller. I don’t believe all of that; I don’t believe that suffering is anything God inflicts on us or that profound suffering is ever good. If that were the case, then suffering, death, and mourning would exist in heaven and Revelation assures us that is not the case.

But I do believe that God can bend all things toward the good, including terrible loss, grief, suffering, and pain. God can fill the deep wounds they inflict with more love than we would have been able to experience without them.

Let the Christmas star shining in the darkness be a symbol of peace, joy, and hope — of the promise that God will bring us at length to endless day, when pain and death and mourning will be no more.

I’m surrounded by too much loss at the moment to wish you a Merry Christmas. Instead, I will pray, “God shine on you this Christmas season.”