One of my favorite Carols is ‘How brightly shines the Morning Star.’ This phrase was a description of Jesus who, I think, was almost certainly an avid reader of the Book of Daniel, from which the expression was probably culled. Those who are wise, shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
If this were a description of us, I dare say we would be pleased, even thrilled. Even without it being attributed to you and me, I find it an inspiration and an encouragement to work and to evangelize but to evangelize whom?
It is too much to say that we are out to evangelize the world … the world is too big a place for individuals to contemplate such a task. Even the church, as a whole, will have its work cut out, even if it were serious about evangelization. At the moment, it appears to be much more intent on destroying itself, with one half trying to crush the other. Yet, as I say this, there are, in fact, more people being brought to Christianity in this age in which we live, than in all the times of history. You may be surprised, but more are turning to Christ than to Islam.
We might be proud of that as a fact, and yet it is also true that two-thirds of the world is yet to hear the gospel message. Fifty or so nations dominate the world, but there are nations and cultures and races out there, that we have never yet heard about, and never will if we concentrate on the world news of CNN and the BBC.
It is not a criticism of these august organizations, but the people of whom I speak live in remote places and follow a life that does not attract the attention of the world’s media. The world’s Bible publishers and societies, dedicated to making the gospel available, can be justly proud that the gospel has been translated into six thousand different languages and dialects and, yet, if the whole world were to be covered, we would need at least another ten thousand.
The worldwide mission field of God, where the harvest has yet to be gathered, is a vast place and we have hardly begun the process in spite of modern communications and the World Wide Web. If you have a computer, you are in a minority even in the sophisticated western world. Television correspondents may send their reports back on satellite phones and cameras, but most of the world’s people lack a decent supply of electricity and just as many lack clean water close by.
If you look at the earth from outer space, you can see the lights of the cities of industrialized nations, but it is no more than the pin pricks of light that we see when we look into the night sky. And, just as the stars go unnoticed during the day, so do the black areas of the world where the lights don’t shine for the astronauts to see. Stars were once the means of navigation, but they don’t impact on western society as once they did, and navigation now is by a network of satellites.
In Bible times, stars still held their magic and their usefulness. God asks Job, “Where were you when the morning stars sang together?” No one asks the question now.
A friend of mine, who used to be good at telling his children stories that he made up, told his boys that the stars were the souls of the righteous, because goodness makes your whole life glow. When good people died, God would hang up their brightness for the entire world to see. This may not be a fact of the physical world, but there is a truth in it that is worth our consideration.
The truth is this, the effect of our lives does not end when we die. It lives on in our children, especially if we were good parents, and it lives on in the people we interact with during our lives. We do sort of glow in the darkness of the world, like stars that light up a moonless night. I hardly need to tell you how much imagery about light has been used in the proclamation of the gospel. It is paramount in John’s gospel, and he says that the light of Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness has never been able to overcome it.
We might look at our lives in the light of this imagery. How much, do you reckon, do we as individuals shine in the darkness of the world?
How much do we as a church, shine in the darkness of unbelief and misunderstanding of our own city?
How much more can we shine and how much more should we shine?
The star of Bethlehem is about the effect of Christ upon the world, and the ones who follow the star are the wise that seek to shine just as brightly themselves. We acquire the brightness through our adherence to the gospel and the faith of our Savior Jesus Christ.
How much do we spread our brightness about, or have we any brightness to spread in the first place. When I was a kid, I remember going to a fancy dress ball at which was a girl dressed as a silver ball. Now, as it was still war time, and difficult to get hold of silver paint, her parents had used some kind of silver paste. Being largish, and round, she brushed up against most people in the hall during the course of the evening, so when we all left we all took away with us in varying amounts of the silver paste that had been used to decorate her costume.
What kind of silver-paste do we spread around on our travels?
There used to be a member here who depressed me so much every time I talked to her, I felt like suicide by the end of five minutes conversation. In another parish, I had a parishioner who always brought the conversation round to Christian education for children so that, in the end, I avoided him, because I couldn’t take any more on the subject.
These are extreme cases but what effect do we leave behind us?
How do we mark each person we speak to?
Do we leave them with a picture of goodness or holiness or peace and goodwill or what?
If the Christian message is to be spread abroad, and we are to feed the light so that the darkness cannot overcome it — and when we die, if we are to become one of the stars of heaven, we may have to change our attitudes and behavior now.