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.)

Jan 6 2013

Natural Epiphanies

RM343Today is Epiphany Sunday.   On this day the church pauses to remember a number of things.  First and foremost we remember that God made Himself known through the child born at Bethlehem (John 1:14).  The word “epiphany” refers to a revelation or manifestation.  There can be no denying that God is revealed most clearly in Jesus Christ but on this Sunday the Western church also recalls the visit the Magi or Wise Men paid to Bethlehem and how they presented the Christ Child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:9-12), while the Eastern church tends to emphasize Jesus’ baptism and how God affirmed His Son at that particular moment (Matthew 3:16-17).  Still others use Epiphany to focus on Jesus’ first miracle, the turning of water to wine at Cana (John 2:1-11).  Needless to say, there is much to remember or think about on Epiphany Sunday.

BB0153As I’ve thought about the biblical stories associated with Epiphany it has dawned on me that nature played a key role in each story.  It was a star (or some special astronomical phenomena) that led the Magi to the house where Jesus resided.  It was in the waters of the Jordan River that Jesus was baptized and received his Father’s affirmation.   At Cana it was ordinary water that was turned into the best wine anyone had tasted.  Does it surprise you that God used elements of His Creation in each example?  It shouldn’t.  As noted many times at this site, God often uses Creation to reveal Himself and His ways to us.

I believe for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear that there are natural epiphanies every single day.  Through God’s “Other Book” we are given countless opportunities to learn about and experience God.  The key here is, of course, having the “eyes to see” and the “ears to hear.”  Or perhaps I should say the key is using our “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” because most of us already have what we need to experience God through His Creation.  It’s just that some people don’t understand that they can find God there or they fail to take the time to look and listen.

chickadee-in-snow-283Since it is the beginning of a new year I want to encourage you (and myself) to make a special effort in the coming months to look and listen more carefully for God’s natural epiphanies.  Try to remember each day that God has much to say and much to teach us through the world that He has made.  Who knows what all we will see and hear if only we make a concerted effort to look and listen?  I only know that it will be good because behind Creation stands one incredible God who loves us all very much.  My suspicion is He has a lot of good news to share with us this year.  I look forward to finding out what that good news is.  Don’t you?


(I took the top image at Roan Mountain State Park in TN, the middle image at Big Bend National Park in TX, and the bottom image at my home in Pikeville, KY.)

Jan 1 2012

“Tuning In” in 2012

“We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  Matthew 2:2

On this first Sunday of 2012 many churches turned their focus to the role of the Magi and their coming to honor the Christ Child.  The Wise Men certainly play a central role in the Christmas story, as does the star that led them to Bethlehem.  Over the years I’ve heard people say the “star” might have been a comet or perhaps a supernova.  Perhaps we’ll never know for sure but it is worth noting that God used a part of His Creation—whatever it was—to lead the Magi to their wondrous encounter with the child Jesus.  That God did this should not surprise us at all; throughout the Scriptures we find God using various natural phenomena to lead people in His direction.

The list of natural things God has used to lead people to Himself is long and varied.  On that list you would find things like a burning bush, a flood, clouds, lightning, earthquakes, a giant fish, a donkey, and mountains.  From the beginning of time to the present moment God has been using His Creation to guide people in His direction.  It is interesting to note that even in biblical times not everyone grasped the significance of what was going on.  God was speaking through what He had made, some just failed to notice.

This makes me wonder how often we miss God’s messages or His attempts to move us in His direction through Creation.   I suspect it happens far more often than we realize.  If we want to see and know God better it would help us to pay more attention to what’s going on around us in the world.  George Washington Carver once said, “Nature is an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour—if we will only tune in.”  A good New Year’s resolution we might all make is to “tune in” more frequently in the coming year.  Doing so will not only make us wise men and women but will also lead to a very happy and blessed New Year.  That is certainly my wish for you!


(I took the top image at Myakka State Park in Florida.  The middle image is a humpback whale fluke I took in Alaska.  The bottom image shows a mountain I photographed at Banff National Park in Canada.)