The last time the joint planets dazzled the world occurred during the Middle Ages on March 4, 1226. What a blessing to be gifted with this awesome sight, not in March, but in Advent on the cusp of Christmas! Coming at the end of such a challenging year, it offers a brilliant sign of hope.
December 21st, the Winter Solstice, is significant. It's the shortest and darkest day of the year, but is the pivot point to Spring as the days grow longer and lighter. We recite the O Antiphon on that day: "O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death."
How prophetic a message coming during this year of lockdowns, isolation, and death! Is there a special significance to this "sign in the heavens" given at this particular time on this particular day? Is this marvelous event just a coincidence, an accident of nature? Or did God, in His wisdom, plan and call forth a sign of tremendous hope for our dark time in history so we can truly say with the prophet Isaiah, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light." We hunger for the “Sun of Justice” to shine on our country.
I think the Christmas carol that captures the tone of this challenging year of Our Lord 2020 is O Holy Night, especially the first stanza. "Long lay the world in sin and error pining." Not only is the secular world on the wrong track, but how many dioceses abandoned the sheep by closing and locking our churches for months, depriving us of the light of Christ and the nourishment of His Body and Blood? Many bishops locked down even before the blind guides in government declared churches "non-essential."
And then in October, to add insult to injury, the Vatican issued a Pachamama silver coin to celebrate the anniversary of the enthronement of the pagan goddess at the Vatican during the 2019 Amazon Synod. What a reminder that we need to "fall on our knees" in repentance!
How easy for the faithful to groan and pine as we see shepherds at the highest level of the Church undermine the faith. Their actions are a graphic reminder of the first century when the religious leaders explained the Messianic prophecies to Herod, but lacked the faith to join the wise men in the search for the newborn King. Like signposts on the road, they offered directions to the divine event happening in Bethlehem, but remained fixed and unmoved at Herod’s court.
December 21st promises to be a holy night for believers gazing up at the star. The poor, the humble, and the wise surrounded the manger. It was the shepherds and the wise men from the East who recognized that the "heavens declare the glory of God." (Psalm 19) The Christmas carol urges us to remember that "holy night" when Jesus was born of Mary. We are invited to let Him be born once again in our hearts, to experience "a thrill of hope!"
No evil thing can defeat us. Even in the darkness, "the weary world rejoices!” Why? Because "yonder breaks a new and glorious morn." Each and every morn is glorious when Christ comes down to earth once again at Holy Mass.
How can we not rejoice when we have such a God, who loves us so much He took on our human flesh so He could suffer and die to save us from "sin and error" and stays with us in every tabernacle in the world. Knowing His love for us, how can we not respond to the angel's cry to "fall on your knees" on this "night divine" heralded by the Christmas star?
On December 21st we are invited to look up to the heavens and see the same sign that called the wise men to leave the comfort of hearth and home and take a long and arduous journey to meet and bring gifts to the newborn king. Let us join that day with the psalmist asking: "When I behold 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?" (Psalm 8) What a wonder!
The Christmas carol answers that question reiterating how much God loves us. It urges us to imitate Christ’s humility by bending the knee before Him. We sing, "The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger. In all our trials born to be our friend. He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger. Behold your King; before Him lowly bend. Behold your King; before Him lowly bend."
May you enjoy a blessed Advent of hope basking in the love of Our Savior. And may it bloom into the merriest of Christmases! Christ is with us.