Today’s blog is the last until next year. It’s a favorite story from my seminary days. I hope it encourages you to look at the night sky on Christmas Eve with wonder, as I will.
Seminary was humbling. I studied under brilliant professors. One in particular, who is now president of another seminary, was pure genius. He had been the youngest district attorney in his home state history before “heading into holiness.” He was tall and gangly, with an infectious grin. And he was irrepressible. He shared this story right before Christmas.
He was driving across his state one winter night—totally lost. He saw lights in the distance. He drove toward them, to an observatory, intending to ask for directions. The person who answered the door assumed he was someone else. “Come in! You’re late! We’ve been waiting.”
Goofy guy that he was, my professor was soon up in the dome. Gesturing at the massive telescope, the man said, “Look there. Listen.” He did as he was told, and found himself staring at a star. Then he heard a pleasant noise, so asked about it. Before answering, the scientist adjusted the telescope so that another star was in focus—accompanied by another sound.
The scientist said that all stars emit sound. My professor was startled. He thought of Luke’s verses about the Heavenly Host singing to announce the birth of the Christ child. He explained that he was a theologian, and not who was expected. The real scientist escorted him out while providing directions so that my prof made it home. But it was too late: he had heard the singing stars.
A couple of weeks later, he was on a plane, headed to a Young Earth conference. He sat next to a man going to the same meeting. His seat mate shared a theory that air pollution impeded the speed of sound, and when the earth was young, sound moved more quickly.
My professor asked, “So, if stars make a noise—” the man nodded to agree “—is it feasible that in Earth’s infancy, humans could have heard it?”
“Very possible,” the man replied. “We think so.”
So my Christmas gift to you is to ask you to look at those stars next week. Imagine them singing. Picture the world two thousand years ago, and the Christ child. Then imagine the Heavenly Host, with all its pitches and warbles and joy, ushering Him to earth with song.
Merry Christmas and Joy to the World! See you next year.
Before I even got out of bed this morning, I knew it was snowing.
We were expecting snow, so I was unsurprised. I awakened with a smile because I knew that when I raised the shades, I would see blinding whiteness. We’re low on snow in the High Country, and Christmas is coming. It is time.
An unique stillness accompanies snowfall. I mentioned a month ago that I experienced snow in Venice in October. I cited the quiet in a city known for bustle and noise. (Maybe Venetian opera singers supplement their income in gondolas as underemployed artists do here as Starbucks baristas? Arias from La Traviata floated by from sunrise until sunset.)
But back to this morning, I thought of how we prepared for snow in the mountains: switching into snow tires (cha-ching!), draining irrigation systems, and scheduling maintenance on the boiler top the list. Early skiers and boarders pass my car, gear strapped atop their vehicles. They seek resorts making enough snow to begin to log days “on the mountain,” bragging rights in these parts. Municipalities bring in sand, gravel, and mag-chloride (snow melt), and parking lots fill with industrial snow plows.
Winter is an art here.
And Christmas is coming. We don’t do an indoor tree, but we wrapped lights on the blue spruce that represents this tradition. Presents are wrapped and laying against the window so that the tree twinkles behind them. Cards were mailed yesterday, and boxes of Christmas cookies will ship Monday to locations as varied as Connecticut, Illinois, and Texas.
I’m thankful for this snow and that my holiday and winter tasks are complete. I can focus on what is most important, which is preparing my heart for Christmas. (Ideally, I should do this all year long.) I scold myself that I prepare more for winter than to celebrate the birth of Christ.
All it takes is one snowflake to remind me of His coming, and to share His love with those around me. Thanks be to God!
Small churches. Large cathedrals. Grand basilicas. I visited dozens of houses of worship in nine countries during ten weeks of research this fall. They shared many elements: ornate architecture; fabulous art; photographs of Pope Francis. But the thing that struck me most was that someone was always praying inside.
God is open for business.
I cede that St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is overwhelming, and that St. Vitus’ Gothic and Romanesque exuberance is impressive in Prague. But I strongly prefer the small churches, like the Church of San Maurizio in Venice, that I stumble upon on my way to someplace else.
One bridge, two superb pastry shops (why, oh why is gluttony a sin?), and three squares from my hotel, the Church of San Maurizio anchors one corner of a campo (square) of the same name. A church has stood there since the 1500s. It’s easy to bustle past the columned-and-pedimented door in a city drowning in jaw-dropping facades.
San Maurizio is a neighborhood church, patiently waiting as children play ball, dogs walk their owners, and restaurants suitable for tourists or locals refuse to serve dinner until 7:00 p.m.. There’s even a transgender sex shop across the campo, with mannequins dressed in drag. (Could I make this up? No.)
I’ve read all about the death of the church. I’ve seen abandoned churches, churches converted to other uses, and churches overwhelmed by gigantic mosques in parts of the world where Islam is in-your-face aggressive. (I’m thinking particularly about the Mosque of Omar in Bethlehem, looming across from the Church of the Nativity.)
But my most recent trip as far east as Istanbul revealed a consistent rhythm of worship, one that continues as individuals pray in places like San Maurizio. These Christians are part of a thread that stretches back two thousand years—to a manger in Bethlehem.
Even the Mosque of Omar can’t overshadow the manger that still illuminates the world.