My alarm went off just before 6:30 a.m. on the final day of serving as a leader for Big Beach Weekend, a summer youth retreat in Harvey Cedars, NJ. Four (amazing!) girls and I got out from the comfort of our bunks, tiptoed down the hall, and into the dusk to walk to the beach so we could watch the sunrise. Quickly, we realized this was no ordinary sunrise. The sky was bursting between the quaint homes of this little town. We were struck with a bolt of energy and began to run towards the horizon, not wanting to miss a second of the sun rising above the Atlantic. Out of breath, with sand between our toes, we stood still with eyes wide open, awestruck by the masterpiece finally before us.
In thinking back to that experience, I am left to wonder how creation affected the wise men on the days surrounding Jesus’ birth. These men “saw his star when it rose and [went] to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). God used His creation to guide them on a journey, to draw them closer to the presence of His Son. It was with intentional haste that they followed it “until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (2:9-10). All they could do upon their arrival was to merely embrace what they witnessed, to fall to the ground in praiseful posture.
Oftentimes, I feel God’s presence through a sunrise like the one pictured, a sunset, a starry night. Perhaps the star the wise men followed left them in amazement by its simple, impactful purpose. Perhaps the sunrise on the day of Jesus’ birth was a watercolor of purples, pinks, and yellows to demonstrate the powerful beauty of the newborn King; or perhaps it had hues of gray that resembled a picture of Jesus’ humble life. Perhaps Mary and Joseph took a moment to be still, to forever remember this sunrise as the one that marked Jesus’ birth and a world forever-changed.
To witness the most spectacular sunrise with those four special girls still leaves me breathless and in prayerful praise. How much more would those who were part of Jesus’ first days on earth have been struck by the splendor of what God was doing around them—watching the sun rise and set in the little town of Bethlehem where the Savior of the world was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12)?
My hope is that we all can take a moment this Christmas to consider how incredible it is that God would use His creation to draw us, and those before us, near to Him; that it could serve to guide us towards Him with anticipatory joy; that just a glimpse of heaven on earth could be so enthralling we might feel the need to run towards it, just to be that much closer to Him.