The Star of Bethlehem
Each year I have a tradition of going through all our Christmas cards and reflecting on and enjoying the wide variety we receive. There were the usual crèche or nativity scenes, Santa Clauses and poinsettias. There were also a number of redbirds, reindeer and soft, furry little animals, some playing in the snow and some gathering around the infant Jesus.
But the figures that won out this year, hands down, as they seem to Christmas after Christmas— were the Wise Men, the Magi, those inexhaustible, saddle-sore creatures from the mysterious lands of the East with names like: Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar. They have ridden across more miles for Hallmark and American Greeting Cards than they ever rode to get to Bethlehem!
And invariably they follow the star, a great luminous body whose brilliance both inspires and challenges the geometrical and creative skills of the card designers.
Throughout the season of advent we have been pondering the significance and symbolism of the star. We have come to see that it is much more than just an astronomical phenomenon that helped to lead and guide the magi from the east to find the Messiah in Bethlehem.
That star that shined so brightly over Bethlehem…it was a star of creation, it was a star of hope, it was a star of unity, but it was also a star of joy.
Tonight we gather under the warmth of the eternal glow of that bright and majestic star of Bethlehem to remember and to celebrate its ultimate significance and meaning. The prophet Isaiah foretold it and tonight the light of the Star of Bethlehem reminds us that in Jesus Christ the promise is fulfilled: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of darkness—on them Light has shined. For a Child has been born for us, a Son given to us.”
You see what we learn from the Wise Men and their wandering star: at the end of the journey is Christ…who is the Light of the World!
And that is exactly what we need. All around we see people who walk in darkness:
. . . the darkness of depression
. . . the darkness of disease
. . . the darkness of despair
. . . the darkness of doubt
Spiritually speaking, people are living in a world of darkness. Some of you may recognize the words to another song, the Simon and Garfunkel song from the 70’s entitled The Sound of Silence: “Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” This is an accurate description of the way many people feel today—they are living in spiritual darkness. We yearn for light to shine into the darkness around us. Christmas comes each year reminding us that into our darkness and night radiant beams of holy light have dawned.
That’s the good news for us on this most holy of nights. Just when the world most needed God’s light, a babe was born in Bethlehem of Judea. The Bright Star of Bethlehem was born. That is the first thing that we must remember tonight. In the birth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ the redeeming Light of the World has come. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people.” (John 1:4)
No wonder the star shone so brightly over Bethlehem. Light was coming into our world. No wonder that our Christmas trees and our houses are adorned with hundreds of lights. That’s what Christmas is all about. Light has come into our dark world.
A remarkable event took place a little more than thirty years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. Darrel Dore was working on an oil rig when suddenly it began to wobble. Before too long it tipped to one side and crashed into the water. Darrel found himself trapped inside a room on the rig. As the rig sank deeper and deeper into the sea, the lights went out and the room where Darrel was trapped began filling with water. Thrashing about in the darkness, Darrel made an amazing life-saving discovery a huge air bubble was forming in the corner of the room. He kept his head inside that bubble of air and prayed that someone would find him.
As he prayed, Darrel felt Christ’s presence there with him. For twenty-two hours the presence of Christ comforted Darrel, but deep down Darrel knew that the oxygen supply inside the bubble was slowly giving out. Soon he would be dead.
Then Darrel saw a tiny star of light shimmering in the pitch‑black water. Was it real or after twenty-two hours was he beginning to hallucinate? Darrel squinted his eyes. The light seemed to grow brighter. He squinted again. He wasn’t hallucinating. The light was real. It was coming from a helmet of a diver who was coming to rescue him. His long nightmare was over. He was saved.
Maybe today you feel like you are drowning in the circumstances of life. Maybe tonight you feel like you have lost your way, that you are groping about in the darkness, that the darkness of life is about to engulf you, to swallow you up, and that there is no hope.
Well I have good news for you, just when the world most needed God’s light, a babe was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Jesus Christ the Light of the World has penetrated that darkness. A Savior has come. The light that enlightens all humankind has come into the world in the person of the Christ child.
Jesus is the light, the Bright Star of Bethlehem that shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. And that’s the second thing I want you to remember tonight. Try as it might the world cannot extinguish Christ’s light.
Why? Because light is always more powerful than darkness. If you’ve ever been in Luray Caverns, then you know that one of the things that usually happens on your tour is at a certain point the guide turns out all the lights, and it is pitch black. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face. But all he has to do is light one candle or turn on one flashlight, and all that darkness cannot smother that light.
Jesus came into a spiritually dark world. Herod heard a k ing had been born, and that threatened him. He deceived the Wise Men by saying, “When you find where this Christ child is, come back and tell me so I can go and worship him too.” But being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, the wise men returned to their country by another route. When Herod realized the magi had outwitted him, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the babies born in Bethlehem and the surrounding vicinity two years of age and younger.
Herod’s slaughter of the infants was widespread. It was a dark hour, but the light of Jesus Christ, the bright star of Bethlehem continued to shine.
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said. “Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child and kill him.” Joseph got up and took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, and he stayed there until the death of Herod.
Herod, the king of darkness, died; Jesus, the tiny infant of righteousness continued to live. Why? Because light is more powerful than darkness.
Friends, the light of Christ it never stops shining. Wars, terrorism, hatred, violence, prejudice, famine, good times and bad, that light continues to shine. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
That light shines in hospital rooms and funeral parlors. It shines amidst poverty and every manner of heartache and hardship. Nothing can stop it. Life nor death nor powers nor principalities, nor anything in all creation, if I might paraphrase Paul, can stop the bright star of Bethlehem, the light of Christ, the light of God’s love for humanity from penetrating the darkness. You can try burying it in the ground and it will still break through. As John declares so beautifully in the very first chapter of his gospel, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Jesus is the light of the world. That light cannot be extinguished.
But there’s one thing more to be said; one more thing I want you to remember. The greatest privilege in the world is to share that light with someone else. Remember the little song that many of us learned when we were kids, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” We are called to bear witness to the light and to carry the light into the world around us.
Let me tell you a story about a woman named Judith Carrick. She tells of visiting a nursing home in her community. In that nursing home was a woman whose mind was as sharp as anyone’s, but because of her illness, she could no longer walk or speak. This poor woman communicated mostly by gestures. She and Judith had become good friends over the years they had known each other, and, as friends do, Judith occasionally would run little errands for the woman, small tasks that she could no longer do for herself.
On one occasion the elderly woman waved Judith into her room with some sense of urgency. There on her bed was a paper napkin with a picture drawn on it. Looking straight at her visitor, the elderly woman pointed to that napkin over and over again. It was obvious that this was something important. Judith looked closely, and she saw the woman had sketched, as best she could, what appeared to be a flashlight.
“Is that a flashlight?” Carrick asked. Her friend’s head nodded up and down, while she pointed first at the picture and then to herself. Judith laughed.
“You want a flashlight?” The head nodded again.
“Whatever for?” Judith asked.
The woman could not answer verbally, but in her own way she made it known that this was a matter of great concern and importance to her. So Judith agreed to bring her a flashlight.
The next time she went to the nursing home Judith made sure that she had the flashlight in hand. She walked into the woman’s room, shining the light all over the walls. A big smile crossed the woman’s face. “Please,” Judith said, “tell me what this is all about. Why do you need a flashlight?”
The old woman moved her wheelchair toward the door and indicated for Judith to follow. Together they went down the hall to the nurse’s station, where one of the aides told Judith that, a few weeks earlier, during a week of heavy rain and high winds, the power in the nursing home had gone out for a time. The woman had become frightened, and she wanted the assurance that if it happened again, she would have that small beam of light to shine in the darkness and ease her fears.
What a great gift for someone who might otherwise have to sit in the darkness. What a gift to give someone, the gift of light. Do you understand that this is our call as followers of Jesus, the Bright Star of Bethlehem, to shine his light into the lives of anyone who is sitting in darkness?
That’s our job when we leave this room, to let the light of Christ shine through us as in His name we share:
. . . His encouragement with the depressed
. . . His strength with the sick
. . . His comfort with the grieving
. . . His hope with the hopeless
. . . His peace to the troubled
. . . His grace with the lost
When the noted writer Robert Louis Stevenson was a little boy, he was sitting one night by a window in his room, watching a lamplighter light the streetlights below. When his mother came in and asked him what he was doing, young Robert answered, “I’m watching a man make holes in the darkness.” Every time we lift up Jesus Christ, every time we stand tall for Jesus Christ, every time we live in the spirit of Christ or share the truth of Christ with others, we are punching holes in the darkness! Remember that old Chinese proverb: “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Indeed so. Two thousand years ago, God lighted the candle and sent it into the world. Jesus Christ, the Bright Star of Bethlehem, the Light of the World was born. And that light is the fulfillment of the promise of hope. It is our part to walk in that light, and live in that light, and share that light with our dark world.