Stars Even in the Deepest Night
My family is here! You are my family, too, and so blessed to be with you this evening.
I’ve been hearing so much from family friends all over internet news- it’s been a tough year.
For many, 2016 has felt like something of a dark and dreamless sleep.
There’s been an incredibly divisive election, increase of fear and hate crimes, wars continue to rage,
we’ve come to a point of facing the ways we participate in our subconscious thoughts, participate in our own imperfections, give permission by silently ignoring unkind words and deeds around us.
We lost icons that give us hope, players like Alan Rickman who gave us the redeemed Professor Snape, boundary pushing musicians like Prince and David Bowie, the Leonard Cohen who gave us Hallelujah. We will miss peace fighter Muhammad Ali, and the Harper Lee who shared “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Folks able to grow up with Gene Wilder have mourned the man who made us laugh and sang to our child-souls about the world of pure imagination.
Another shining light we said goodbye to, helped guide the world through pondering the dark and dreamless sleeps. This man was Nobel laureate Eli Wiesel, who shared his experience of the Holocaust concentration camp in his book, “Night.” And in it, this Jewish man shared the essence of the light we celebrate in Christ’s birth. He said,
“Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
‘For God's sake, where is God?’
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
‘Where He is? This is where.’”
This is why we celebrate the birth of Christ at the time when it is darkest - for it’s the time the stars shine brightest. This is the night to celebrate the stars’ light when we otherwise may not. The constellations in all their radiance, swirl above us even as the sun shines brightly, and they are always there, even if our eyes are closed, even if we come to be in a dark and dreamless sleep. The story of Christmas reminds us that the small lights of human compassion admist darkness have extraordinary power, deserving of not just witness, but jubilation. So while most of Bethlehem sleeps in the dark of night, and while we may bemoan this year, we may also ask, where is the light of those stars?
And though in our own church family, more folks have grown sick or have increasing trouble getting out, though some nervousness about what the future holds for us in a world with increasing demands on time, energy, and resources, though we have lost so many of our beloved ones - Ellen, Don, Ed, Carl, Collin, and just this week, Lou Springsteen, even still the star of Bethlehem shines so brightly in this church, and in each person here gathered.
Let us take a moment to open our eyes and look up, to see the star of Bethlehem, to witness the light of christ that is here together.
Let’s walk through the Christmas story and find the dazzling light of God that has come to be with us in our humanity this year.
In conversation cafe group discussions, when we have been talking about addiction, and the stereotypes and shame that will often accompany it, some have opened up about their own experiences either personally or with a family member struggling with and working through addiction - and what beautiful Joseph moments I have seen in those who nod and without judgment walk alongside those who hold these experiences and stories - who help to hold with. It shows a beautiful expanding, a divine willingness to better understand ourselves and the world and how we can be the best witness to God’s love.
Like the nurturing of Mary, I have seen many of you put yourselves out into the community in expanding friendship - and as the friendly church, you all know well about friendship. It’s been an honor to see some of you taken initiative in relationships with those from Westwood’s Parkside Community Church, First Congregational, Christ Lutheran, and our Methodist friends. And not just with Christian churches, but also interfaith wise, you’ve made a point to reach out to the Temple around the Corner, Beth Sholom and reached out in peace to know our Muslim brothers and sisters with the Peace Islands Institute. Moreover, the food pantry has never had more volunteers, as those of you who have been so actively participating know. This year has seen a huge increase with helpers from all over the tri-boro area.
And like the angels, we know what to celebrate. Yes we’ve had funerals, but we’ve had baptisms, too. And Audrey shared this with me not too long ago that I think was so like the herald angels singing. She shared that two new babies are coming to the Stober family this year, and then went on to say, well you know we often have a birth right after a death, but Don was so special, he gets two babies.
Like the shepherds who heard of the celebration and joined in, Cyndi, a newer participant in our Meditation Inspiration group, didn’t just volunteer her time, but organized and offered up the recorder trio she belongs to, to share beautiful music with us.
And just last week after the service I heard from two wise women of how they loved the little children in worship, sharing the joy of their enthusiasm. In this I saw the wisdom of the wise men, recognizing the fragility of a child’s faith is more precious than any traditional knowledge or refinement.
In this season, though, here is where I have seen the essence, the light shining brightest. I’ve seen the ways you’ve been there for each other. Offering to pick up those who have more trouble coming on their own, checking in at coffee hour, praying with each other. I think of the fact that every time I go to visit Karen in hospice, I either see or hear about someone from our church family going before or coming soon after me. You’ve rubbed her back, and held her hand, and cried and laughed with her in the midst of everything. Karen has been shown such love and support. You have been with her, and I hope you know, God’s presence has been with you in that room, too.
It has been a year bursting to the seam with God’s working hands and light. It’s all been there. And perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that these are so easy to forget. Christ’s birth, while marked by his parents, the angels, by the shepherds, by some wise men and a paranoid king, it largely went unnoticed at the time. But christ was there in the most vulnerable form to be with us - and this gift and thrill of hope is for us, to carry us on through the darkest nights, to be with us as we enter the new year, to share that hope with one another and the world. As we share our prayers tonight, as we light our candles as outer representations of our inner Christ-light, we remind each other in our togetherness that the night will never be deep enough to extinguish the stars’ light; and always shining brightest, if we awake and look up, will be the star that is a manifestation of and guides us to the small, unconquerable kindness of radically eternal Love.