Being like stars – shining light, hope and wonder

IMG_2610Stars are very Christmassy. They twinkle, they shine, they have a magic all of their own. And a star is a very familiar part of the Christmas story. A star shines over the place where Jesus is born, so that people will know where he is and also that his birth is a wonderful event. Observing it from a distance, it causes the wise men to wonder and set off on their journey to find him. They bring their strange gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to lay before him. This is why we place a star at the top of Christmas Trees. It is to remember the star that shone over Jesus’ birth, announced it to wise men and drew them to embark on a journey to come and see, to come and adore. Stars invite us to travel and wonder.

Living in a city we don’t see the stars as clearly as people who live in much more rural areas do because of all the light pollution we get from the street lights and other bright lights in a modern city. If you go to a more secluded place, where there is much less light around, on a clear night, the sky lights up with a myriad of little lights, constellations and patterns. They are a source of awe and wonder, these strange lights in the sky. And when we know what they are, they are even more amazing. They are signs of how vast the universe is and that it is incredible. It is God’s creation and he loves it.

Just recently if you looked into sky first thing in the morning, before it got light, you will have seen a bright light in the south. This is called the Morning Star and it is a very bright light. It is actually the planet Venus, which is the brightest of the planets, so not really a star at all. Around this time of year the course of its orbit means that it appears just before dawn. It is an unusual sight to see a star while pulling back the curtains just as the day is dawning and it catches my attention every time. The Morning Star as it is known, has been a thing of wonder since the earliest days of human beings. It is recorded in the Bible as being something of wonder and it is one of the ways the first Christians talked about Jesus, as the Morning Star, the one who rises bringing hope and light to the darkness. Just like the star in the sky announces that day is about to dawn, a new hope is coming and will be fulfilled so Christ brings light to the darkness and ends the time of darkness. He is our light, our hope, our way, our everything.

This idea of the Morning Star has very deep roots in the Bible. There are quite a number of references that it draws on. Right at the end of the Book of Revelation, the final book of the bible, as it begins to look to how Christ will bring everything to completion, to fulfillment, Christ is referred to as ‘the bright morning star’ (Revelation 22:16). He is the one who brings about the promise of God’s salvation. He is our light, our hope, our way, our everything.

Much earlier in the Old Testament, the Morning Star is said to come out of the house of Jacob (Numbers 25:17), the origins of the ancient Hebrew People. Salvation will come from them as well as to them. So when Joseph is described as being descended from the house of David, talking of Jesus as the Morning Star connects with this long thread. The central message is that God brings salvation, and that is what the name Jesus means. Joseph is told ‘you will call is name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). Christ as the Morning Star is an affirmation of hope and promise fulfilled; God loves his creation and Christ comes as the one who comes to save us. He is our light, our hope, our way, our everything.

So Christmas, full of bright and twinkling lights, touches the very point and purpose of life, of creation. And John in his incredibly rich prologue to his gospel, which we have just read, sets this out so powerfully and fully.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

The very thoughts and purpose, the planning and wisdom of God were in the beginning and they came among us in this child. Just as words communicate, so the one who is the Word of God, connects with creation, brings creation into being, and therefore is the only one who can bring Salvation to us. Because he is our light, our hope, our way, our everything.

Be like stars shining in the sky this Christmas, lights which bring hope and draw others to want to know more about the faith that inspires you and fires you. Be like stars which announce hope and that life is full of purpose and promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ. There are so many ways we can do this.

We can be people who bring promise and hope into the room. That in itself can be transformative, especially in these difficult days, when our nation is so divided over Europe and so many other things. We are people of hope because the world is God’s creation and he loves it. That gives reason beyond anything else to hope, to trust in God’s goodness. We can be people who draw others on a journey to wonder, because of our infectious excitement that this is a world of wonder and joy, awe and thanksgiving. That lifts the heart and bends the knee to worship. We can be people who live a justice which remembers that God is mindful of all people, loves all people equally, so no one is to be excluded or shut out. Some are shut out because they are hungry or homeless, lonely or struggling to put food on the table. Foodbanks help, but so does asking why they are needed. At a time of year when the Christ-child had to be laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn, the growing number of people who are homeless is particularly distressing. Garden House and the Winter Night Shelter are making a difference to lives here, bringing hope to very troubled lives, to people who have dropped off the edge in so many ways. Christmas, with Christ coming among us, is a celebration that God chooses to get involved in the struggles and concerns of daily living and our striving for justice.

Stars have a special place at Christmas. Among them, the Morning Star shines out announcing to us in that moment just before dawn that light is coming. It is not just a distant planet it is the proclamation of light, of hope, of following in the way of Christ, of everything being caught in the purposes, love and salvation of God. This is true meaning of Christmas. God loves the creation he made and therefore there is hope, there is love to be shared, there is joy to fill our hearts. So, with that have a happy, Christ-filled Christmas.

Sermon for Christmas Midnight, Peterborough Parish Church, 24th December 2018

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About Revd Canon Ian Black

Ian is Vicar of Peterborough, Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral and Rural Dean of Peterborough. He previously served for 10 years in Leeds, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes 10 miles north west of Canterbury. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian is married with two sons. He is the author of three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His latest book is 'Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus' (Sacristy Press 2017). He has been writing online since the mid 1990s.
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