First Sunday after Christmas – 27th Dec 2020
By the time you read this, a great event will have happened: not an instant Covid cure (I wish!), nor sudden permission to hug our grannies, but something that’s been happening in the heavens for thousands of years. Yes, you’ve got it! I’m talking about the conjunction(that means a coming together) of the great planets Saturn and Jupiter, on Monday night. Expert star-gazers observed the phenomenon long ago from places like Persia, and found it mysterious: until mathematicians did the sums, and found it was predictable. Some people think one such event might have been the “star” the Wise Men followed to Bethlehem, because the light reflected by two planets, together, would be unusually bright, and what’s more planets move, which other stars don’t: at least from our point of view. Seafarers and wanderers in the wilderness may navigate by the North Star, since the Earth’s axis always points to it, but Jupiter and Saturn each move in their own way, nearer to, or further from, each other, as time passes. That’s why they seem to travel through the sky, and how Kings on camels could follow, wheresoever they went.
But all journeys take time. If it was the planetary conjunction that got them going, a week (or more) before the Nativity of Christ, they arrive several days (or even years!) afterwards. If your Christmas cards (thank-you, everyone) pictured them there, with the baby still in the manger, and shepherds and angels and so on, it’s not really factual, the way a photograph might be. (It reminds me of the story of a man who went to the Natural History Museum bookshop, hoping to buy real photos of real dinosaurs to give to his daughter – impossible!) No: the story as we have it tells us the Shepherds came first (they were local) and the posh folks later – as is often the way. But pictures – particularly paintings by the Old Masters – show the whole story – even the ox and ass from Isaiah, or sometimes a distant Cross – because it’s the WHOLE story that matters. What is Christ’s birth, without his death and Resurrection? In days when few people could read, the whole Gospel had to be shown all at once, as a true picture of one great event, for all to see. The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, as John tells us in his first chapter on Christmas Day: which flesh then obediently suffered its first religiously-required physical pain, a week later, according to Luke. Modern believers, alas, miss much through turning the body of Christ back into words, so as to understand them: how much better to stand in awe beneath a great and glorious EVERYTHING, all at once? It would make us like the shepherds, seeing, and believing, mighty wonders, and still looking after their flocks, and bring even kings to their knees. Christmas is full of wonder: which we celebrate, if we will, in all its fullness, every day of our lives.