Like many of you I spent some time on the evening of December 21 gazing at the closest alignment of Jupiter and Saturn that has been visible in the past 800 years. This sight on the longest night of one of the most difficult years in human history filled my heart with hope!
2020 will be forever remembered for the pandemic that killed over 1.75 million people worldwide, with more than 330,000 in the U.S. alone. It will also go down in the books as a year of dramatic mental health, economic and educational stress, not to mention all of the other challenges for so many around the globe. In addition, recognition of our nation’s history of racial injustices against black and brown people was front and center with the senseless killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others followed by weeks of protests and demonstrations across the U.S. and in other parts of the world.
And yet as I continue to learn more about hope and how it works in our lives, on this special December 21, the longest night of a very long year, my hope was refreshed. Observing the Jupiter/Saturn alignment in the night sky, I remembered the Magi in Matthew 2:1-12 - and my heart was stirred.
Some scholars think the best explanation for the rising of the star that led astrologers from the East to Bethlehem was the same kind of Jupiter/Saturn alignment that we recently witnessed. Others explain the star as a comet or in a different way. What we do know, however, is that the rising star gave the Magi incredible hope many centuries ago.
Hope that a King had been born (2:2) . . . hope that filled them with joy (2:10) . . . hope that caused them to worship Jesus (2:11) . . . hope that resulted in their giving the Christ Child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (2:11).
Research tells us that hope is built through three very concrete factors: 1) a preferred picture of tomorrow; 2) a belief that we can indeed work toward that tomorrow and effect change; and 3) the ability to persist in finding a path to that future even if our initial efforts are unsuccessful. (See Shane Lopez research in Making Hope Happen). The Magi had all three of these! Which of these do you need to lean into as we head into 2021? Is it an image of a brighter tomorrow? A belief that you really can, in Christ, make a difference? Or a strengthening of the persistence muscle to not give up even when weary?
The hope of the Magi transcends time these many centuries later. It stirs joy in us . . . causes us to worship the Christ Child . . . and inspires our generosity in response to God’s gift of Jesus to the world.
As I write this blog, we are still in the midst of the pandemic, COVID-19 related challenges abound in our world and racial injustice continues to exist in our nation. However, we have hope for a better today and tomorrow because the One who God led the Magi to find and worship grew up to be the Savior of the world. Jesus, the Christ Child, is the Great Physician, the Conqueror of Death, the Prince of Peace, the Ultimate Reconciler, the One who stands with the oppressed and on the side of mercy and justice.
That is why my heart filled with hope as I looked at the night sky on the longest night of 2020, and why I continue to be hopeful as we move into 2021.
As always, it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
North Alabama Conference