A couple of years ago, I read in The Times that the skies lit up over New York City.
“There was a boom and a hum and smoke and the sky turned fluorescent blue.”
Twitter like mindedly lit up with eerie lights.
“It was spectacular”, a deputy inspector in the 114thPrecinct said. “You could see it a half mile away. You felt it in your chest, the explosions in the night sky turned electric blue.”
“The lights were so bright,” one witness observed, that “the dark night was bright as day.”
The 911 phone lines lit up, too.
Was it an Unidentified Flying Object?
Was it an alien invasion?
A lost aurora borealis?
Confused, 21st century New Yorkers flocked outside to figure out what was going on. What was the meaning of it all?
Turns out it was a celestial phenomenon that can be explained by physics: a discharge of supercharged photons into the night sky – from Con Edison. Literally an electrifying event.
Two millennia and two decades ago, the night sky likewise (sort of) lit up with cosmic confusion.
Four times Matthew’s second chapter mentions the star. The star that beckoned to the Magi and by which the Three Kings traversed afar.
A star? A supernova, maybe? A comet? Haley’s Comet flew by in 12 B.C.E., astronomers tell us. Possibly planets aligning? Planets are the wanderers in the dark inky sky, after all.
Or maybe it was just a fluorescing symbol that lights the way?
A tracking device, a traffic light, a GPS, a giant cosmic flashlight focusing down on the place where Jesus lay.
“The Truth is Out There,” the sage Fox Mulder of the X-Files so famously said.
I am a nerdy, nerdy fan of this 1990’s sci-fi series. Collectible action figures of Fox and Dana keep watch on my windowsill. I have a UFO Nativity ornament hanging on my tree. And one my very favorite Christmas presents is a book called The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites, and Mutants by Anne Simon, Ph.D.. (Yes, an actual well-respected scientist wrote this book!)
If you are familiar with the show, you know that being an embarrassment to the FBI, Agent Mulder’s office is buried in the basement of the Hoover Building. Mulder is on a quacky quest to prove that in this universe, we are not alone.
But for Mulder this is also a deeply personal quest, to search for a child, a little sister who disappeared in the dead of night. Mulder turns his gaze skywards, hoping upon hope for his sister to return.
In episode after episode, partner Dana Scully, a trained medical doctor and UFO skeptic, does her damndest to keep grounded the pie-in-the-sky Mulder. While she quite ironically, as a person of faith, finds her North Star in science.
Through eleven seasons together, Mulder and Scully stumble and fumble their way toward the truth.
The Way, interestingly enough,is the earliest name that followers of Jesus called themselves.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2 KJV)
They had found a way.
Flashes of light piercing through confusion, stagnation, delusion.
Like explosions going off in our heads and opening our eyes.
So poignantly so in 2020, a year of plague.
In headlines screaming things we’d rather not hear.
In images revealing things we’d rather not see.
In events unfolding we’d rather ignore.
Flashes of light in the darkness.
Flashes of light melting into the night as fast as they appear. Gone in the twinkling of an eye.
Minds enlightened. Souls stirred. Limbs stretched. The Way before us clearer, brought into focus, a sage once said.
This is what epiphany means.
Like the Magi, now we fledgling Christians hopefully seek the same. To return to what matters most: life, love, compassion, justice. Not just for you and me but for everybody. Not just for those with the loudest voices but for the voiceless.
We are called to follow these wise ones on the road less travelled. That other rocky and more difficult road. That road that more often than not, we are reluctant to travel.
Where we’ll have to do things, we don’t really want to do.
Where we’ll have to speak up and say things that aren’t easy to say.
Where we’ll have to let go of things that we would rather keep.
Where we’ll have to give of ourselves, losing time and losing sleep.
We’ll have to be less selfish and more self-aware.
We’ll have to keep our eyes on the prize,
on peace on earth and goodwill for all.
Show us the Way of the Light Divine.
Show us the way to redeem what truly matters.
NOTE: The title of this post is taken from The Frames’ song “Star, Star Teach Me How to Shine.”
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog