On Monday night of this week, or early Tuesday morning, North America was treated to a very rare spectacle: a total lunar eclipse. It began around midnight, and was fully over most likely before most of us were awake, but for 72 minutes, the Moon was totally hidden in the dead-center of Earth’s shadow. Obviously, I am not a scientist, but the simple explanation of a lunar eclipse is when the Earth passes between the Moon and the Sun in such a way that it blocks the Sun’s rays from striking the Moon. The Moon gets caught in the Earth’s shadow, or really passes through the Earth’s shadow over a few hours. At 2:17 on Tuesday morning, the Moon was in the Earth’s deepest shadow.
What was interesting about the lunar eclipse is that what I expected to happen didn’t happen. In my little mind, if the Moon was in the dead-center of the Earth’s shadow, then there should have been no sunlight hitting the Moon, which would mean that the Moon would be completely dark. But if you were awake at 2:17 on Tuesday morning, you saw a reddish, coppery glowing ball in the sky. As best I understand it, the reason the Moon was not totally dark has to do with the atmosphere of the Earth. As the sunlight passed through the atmosphere of Earth, the differing wavelengths of the sunlight were scattered. The light with the longer wavelengths, light that we perceive as red, is the light that gets refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere and still hits the surface of the moon. The result is a reddish looking moon, along with a beautiful reddish light reflected back on the surface of the earth. In places up north, where the ground is covered in white snow, the ground turned red for 72 minutes.
I was reading about this phenomenon this week and at the same time reading my daily Bible readings. I came to the words of the prophet Isaiah,
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. (Isaiah 9.2 ESV)
I was struck by the phrase “deep darkness” because when I was reading about the lunar eclipse, it talked about the “dead center of the Earth’s shadow.” The people living in the dead center of the Earth’s darkness, on them, a light has shined.
The apostle John used this image of light as he wrote about the incarnation. In the first chapter of his gospel, he wrote,
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1.1-4 ESV)
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Even though we dwell in the dead center of the Earth’s shadow, the deep darkness was not able to overcome the Light of the World.
If you were awake at 2:17 on Tuesday morning, what you saw was this reddish moon begin to pass out of the Earth’s shadow and into the fullness of the sunlight. By four in the morning, the moon was washed a full in the pure light of the Sun.
Which is why singing Silent Night to candlelight is so meaningful. I remember the first time one of my kids asked me, “Why do we sing Silent Night to candlelight?” And I didn’t really know what the answer was. I guess part of it is to remember the night when the angels appeared to the shepherds surrounded by the small light of the stars. But I think the greater meaning has to do with the words of the prophet, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” In a moment, we will be surrounded by darkness, and the light of the Christ candle will slowly fill this room. And the darkness will not be able to overcome it.
Before we spread the light of the Christ candle, I would like for us to hear the words of the prophet Isaiah just after he wrote about the people who walked in darkness seeing a great light. He wrote,
6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9.6 ESV)
Before we share the light of the Christ candle, may we take just a few moments to meditate on the “name” of this child. As His light shines upon your darkness, may He be for you a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and a Prince of Peace.
Wonderful Counselor. A counselor is someone who gives advice. When I think of a counselor, I think of someone you go to with a problem, hoping to get some direction or advice about how to handle it. It might be a relationship problem, or a financial problem, or an emotional problem, but the hope is that the counselor has some wisdom or perceptive that you don’t have to guide you out of the problem. The Light of the World is our Wonderful Counselor. Whatever darkness is in our lives, we can turn to the Light to get advice and direction and guidance to step out of the darkness and into the light. We light our dark candle with the light of the Christ candle to welcome the Wonderful Counselor into our lives.
Mighty God. But Christ is much more than just a counselor who gives us advice or encourages us with our problems. Christ is the Mighty God. As John said, the Word was God in the beginning. Christ did not come into existence in the manger. He is the eternal Son of God, the creator of the World, and the Judge of the living and the dead. He is the King of King and Lord of Lords. And He is a mighty God. Paul wrote, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8.31). When we line up our lives behind Christ, we are marching behind the Victorious Warrior, the Mighty God. When we light our dark candles with the light of Christ, we are welcoming into our lives Christ as our Mighty God.
Everlasting Father. I once read an article about how we should be careful about speaking of God as a “father” because so many people have had poor earthly fathers. And I will be honest, I cannot speak to that because God gave to me a very good father. So, I do not know what it is like to hear the phrase “Everlasting Father” with those ears. But I do think that there is a hunger within all of us, whether we had a good earthly father or not, to have a Father with a capital “F,” to have a Father that lives into everything that we hope a father would be but that we know that every earthly father cannot be. Think about the perfect father: wise, courageous, kind, gentle, strong, generous, frugile, disciplined, patient, consistent, pure, loving, etc. No other human person could ever be the perfect father to us, but the Christ is our Everlasting Father. Not a father that we are expected to outgrow and make it on our own, but a Father who is everlasting. When we light out dark candles with the light of Christ, we are welcoming into our lives Christ as the Everlasting Father.
Prince of Peace. Now there’s a phrase. Christ is the Prince of Peace. I think there is no other craving as powerful in all of the world than the craving for peace. Not just the temporary absence of conflict kind of peace, but soul peace. The “it is well with my soul” kind of peace. The “peace that passes understanding” kind of peace. It is the “resting in the shadow of the wings of the Almighty” kind of peace. It is living our lives in a world of uncertainty, and yet knowing that the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and Everlasting Father is in charge of everything. When we light out dark candles with the light of Christ, we are welcoming into our lives Christ as the Prince of Peace.