Attending to the light


Matthew 2:1-12

    ©Suzanne Grimmett

We were never promised any of it — this world of cottonwoods and clouds — when the Big Bang set the possible in motion. And yet here we are, atoms with consciousness, each of us a living improbability forged of chaos and dead stars. Children of chance, we have made ourselves into what we are — creatures who can see a universe of beauty in the feather of a bird and can turn a blind eye to each other’s suffering, creatures capable of the Benedictus and the bomb.

So writes Maria Popova as she reflects on the beauty and the terror of humanity. [1]

The turn into the new year is always haunted by the longings of who we want to be and the kind of life we want to be living. The symbol of a star can express for us that faith that is needed in the darkness, and the bright guide we may follow to find our way through, holding gently the desires of our hearts and the hopes for a brighter tomorrow.

The sign of a star in the sky is full of symbolic longing- it is after all, a star that so many wish upon, and a star many point to when remembering ones they long to be reunited with after death. The star indicates both the need for a guide and alignment in our lives, as well as the mystery of a heavenly visitation.

In the Gospel story we share tonight- the story shared at the Feast of Epiphany- we find star and the holy child aligned, bringing heaven and earth together and drawing visitors from afar who recognise the import of what has occurred and come to pay homage. These visitors recognise in the promised child under the star a fulfilment of human longing- that divinity and humanity are reconciled. But whereas the wise ones from the East come filled with joy, the star has the opposite effect on King Herod, who is filled with murderous intent. His desires seem centred on power and control, and the transcendent presence and mystery is missed, as it always is, by the primal urgency of fear. There is always the choice available to us to listen to the voice of our fear and turn away from the visitation of God. The child brought into the world and lain in an animal’s feed trough is many different things at once; wonder and mystery for Mary, the hope of king and Messiah for the wise men, and a fearful threat to Herod.

We all look upon the world with different eyes and cannot think outside ourselves and our own consciousness. We sometimes might think that our knowledge of things is independent of ourselves and of what we bring to the relationship, but given the nature of consciousness, that is impossible. Everything that is, comes into being for us shaped by our relationship to it and our interpretation based on our experience and understanding. Or to put this again into the context of the Gospel story, the sight of the star was variably for some, hope piercing the darkness of their human suffering but for others a shining omen of worlds being undone. [2]

The birth of the child of Bethlehem creates anew a world that is fundamentally shaped by how we attend to and interpret this sign… and how we live today because of it. There is no “thing” in this world that exists in a vacuum, but all is relationship and experienced relationally. Herod’s response sets off a chain of violence that is an expression of his own experience of power and personal threat and the fears that haunt him.

As always, we have seen in humanity this year, to again quote Maria Popova, creatures capable of the Benedictus and the bomb. In old conflicts continuing to rage across the globe from Sudan to Ukraine and in the senseless killing of the innocent in Israel and in Palestine, we see events interpreted through the lens of experience and responses shaped by its connection to people, places and ideas. There is no objective truth of war and violence that can be unearthed, separate from the relationships that created it. We have made ourselves into what we are. In amongst this entangled mess of experience and subjective truth, perhaps it is timely to be reminded of the words of the Benedictus from Luke’s Gospel spoken in the temple in Jerusalem by the elderly Simeon as he took the infant Jesus into his arms;

In the tender compassion of our God

the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet into the way of peace.  (Luke 1:78-79)

When we see images of violent conflict from far away, and disunity and disharmony in our own country, communities and families, the sign of a star to guide us, and the light of divine peace to break upon us is needed. We need a hope that is both within us and beyond us.

So perhaps at this dawn of the New Year we might see in the star a symbol of the holy longing we bear as humankind- a longing born of the paradox of being both temporal and eternal creatures, full of dizzying potentialities and capacity for love and yet limited in our vision, held captive by fear and the compulsions of greed, power and self-interest. Perhaps we might think about what we attend to, and what we bring to that attention- do we look with the eyes of fear and control, or can we allow the Spirit to help us see with the eyes of hope? How might we ourselves, and our lives change if we bring that kind of attention to the lights of love and possibility that are around us, pointing as guiding stars to the presence of the divine amongst us and the hope for being better than we are.

That is the point of New Year’s resolutions, isn’t it? That sense that often who we are and who we are meant to be are misaligned, and that something can be done to correct that. It is a longing ‘to see a universe of beauty in the feather of a bird’ but also to be able to turn to one another again and again with compassion and empathy. The good news is that, unlike New Year’s resolutions, it is not all down to us. Christmas is a reminder us that the dawn from on high can break upon us, if we have eyes to see and the spirit to attend to the divine already within and amongst us.

The promise of the child of Bethlehem is that God is with us, enabling us to be co-creators of a better world, bringing the light of hope and the possibility of love to birth in our own lives, families and communities. Much hinges not on our most determined resolutions but on a willingness to awaken and attend to such light all around us; light that we may not always see. And as the Christ who is gentle and humble in heart walks with you, may that same light overflow to touch all those you encounter in the year to come, that we may be co-creators of peace and new possibility.



[2] Ideas influenced by and drawn from McGilchrist, Iain. The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning (pp. 9-10). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.