Dec 18 2013

What Are You Watching This Christmas?

e_CES0370This past Sunday my younger sister was nice enough to e-mail me a page from her daily devotion guide.  Betty is a regular reader of this blog and thought I would enjoy the devotion written by Gina Bridgeman.  I did.  Bridgeman pointed out a connection between the Christmas story and nature that I had not given much thought to in the past.  That connection is the fact that key players in the Christmas story were actually focused on elements of nature when they were presented with the good news of Jesus’ birth.

In Luke’s Gospel we are told that there were shepherds out in the field that night keeping watch over their sheep.  That is, after all, what shepherds do; they watch and care for sheep.  That is their focus.  Well, it was as they did just that this particular group of shepherds got first a visit from an angelic messenger and then were serenaded by an entire choir of angels.  The message was clear—“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (v. 2:11)  The choir went on to sing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (v. 2:14)

e_CES2439It is in Matthew’s Gospel that we learn about the Wise Men.  These individuals (we actually have no idea for sure how many there were) may well have been astrologers.  They weren’t watching sheep.  No, their eyes stayed focused much higher.  Long before there were telescopes these individuals paid careful attention to the movement of the stars and planets.  They believed that there was much to be learned by doing so.  After watching the night sky for some time they came to the conclusion that God was sending them a message.  Though they were from the East they felt led to follow the path of the heavenly light westward.  Matthew says when they arrived in Jerusalem quite some time later they asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (v. 2:2)  Once again, we see that God spoke to a group of people as they focused on an element of nature, the stars.

The author of the daily devotion mentioned above raised the question, what are we watching these days?  That is a good question.  Perhaps we are watching our favorite Christmas program on television.  Maybe it’s a band marching in our town’s annual Christmas parade.  This time of year a lot of people like to get out and look at the Christmas lights and decorations others have put up. Others will watch their children or professional actors perform A Christmas Carol or The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever.  A few days ago my wife and I went to watch (and hear) a Jim Brickman Christmas concert and even more recently a Holiday Pops performance by the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra.  When it comes to watching there’s no shortage of options this time of year.

baby-sheep-2Bridgeman went on to say that paying attention to all these things does not necessarily help her keep her focus on Jesus.  In fact, she said much of it turns out to be a distraction.  Because of this, she said she decided to do something different.  She says, “Each evening I walk out my back door, and taking a cue from the Wise Men, scan the December sky for the brightest object—Sirius, the Dog Star.  I watch it for a few moments, and not only do I feel connected to that first Christmas, but it’s time each night to focus my heart on the One at the center of it all.”

I think that’s good advice.  In the midst of all the madness and noise that is associated with this season, perhaps now would be a great time to spend some precious moments out in nature watching the stars, sheep or whatever else might be handy.  God has a long history of speaking to those who watch and pay attention to His Creation.  Why should today be different?


(I took the top picture at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, KY; the middle picture last night at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., and the bottom one at a friend’s farm in Virginia.)

Aug 25 2013

The Moon and Stars

_CES7969In recent days I’ve had occasion to do some photography of the night sky.  While visiting Michael Boone in Washington State I photographed the Milky Way from his driveway.  It had been a long time since I was able to see that many stars at one time.  A few days ago I saw the beautiful full moon rise as I was walking our dog and quickly ran home to get my camera and telephoto lens so that I could capture an image of it.  It was quite a sight sitting over the neighbor’s house.

_CES1966Both opportunities remind me of something the Psalmist said long ago.  In Psalm 8 David declared, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (v. 3-4)  There can be no doubt that David felt what so many of us have when viewing the night sky–an incredible sense of smallness.  Had he known what we know today he might have felt even smaller.  There’s no way he could have known then that the moon was 238,900 miles above his Judean home.  Nor would he have have known that there are around 100,000 million stars in the Milky Way alone.  Some recent studies indicate that the total number of stars in the universe might exceed 300 sextillion (that’s 3 followed by 23 zeros).  Still, what David saw and knew was enough for him to feel humbled before the Creator and “the work of your fingers.”

David wondered how the One who put the moon and stars in their place could possibly be mindful of him or care for him.  As he expresses this wonder it is not that he is doubtful that God is mindful of him or lacks concern.  Quite the opposite!  David was very much aware of God’s concern for him; he just found it hard to believe as he gazed into the heavens.  He’s certainly not the only one to have had this problem.  I know that God loves me immensely but when I look up at the heavens at night, or across the Grand Canyon, or at the summit of Mount McKinley I find that knowledge all the more amazing.  I feel so small.  So insignificant.

GC-Imperial-PointIn Psalm 147 it says God “determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” (v. 4)  That is unfathomable to me for it means God knows over 300 sextillion stars by name!  In the spirit of David, what blows my mind in light of this is that he knows my name too.  In John 10:3 Jesus talked about how the Good Shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  The God who knows the stars by name also knows your name and mine.  Elsewhere Jesus added that he even knows the number of hairs upon our head. (Luke 12:7)  That’s pretty amazing, is it not?

I have no doubt that the moon and stars will continue to make me feel small and insignificant at times but they also serve as constant reminders that I am not insignificant at all.  The God who made them knows and loves me.  The God who made them knows and loves you too.  That knowledge is enough to drive a person to his or her knees.  It is at the same time enough to make one stand tall.


(I describe the top two images in the text.  I took the bottom image showing the Grand Canyon from Imperial Point several years ago.)

Jul 19 2009

Moved By The Moon

moon 179Long before I ever realized my calling to be a minister or pursued an avocation as a nature photographer I wanted to be an astronaut.  I was a child during the 60s and closely followed NASA’s space program.  I dreamed of one day being able to go to the moon.  Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the first journey to the moon.  I was thirteen when Apollo 11 landed on Tranquility Base but still vividly remember watching the events unfold on a black and white television.  It was a truly inspiring moment.

For many people simply looking at the moon and the stars on a clear night is a moving experience.  It can also be a religious one.   In Psalm 8 David wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you care for him?”  He both begins and ends this psalm with the words, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

I suspect most Christians can relate to the Psalmist’s reflection.  Observing a full moon, looking at the planet Saturn through a telescope, or marveling at the vast expanse of the Milky Way on a cold winter night can be a very humbling experience.   Actually, there is much in nature that creates in me a sense of humility.  I have felt humbled by the majestic Grand Teton mountains, the roar of calving glaciers, and viewing the northern lights.  In those moments I have felt quite small and wanted to say with the Psalmist “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

I have no doubt that one reason God made the world so beautiful and amazing is that He wanted us to remain humble and in awe of Him.  It sure works for me!

–Chuck Summers