Last week, I was one of those curious people who set my alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to go outside in the cold fall air to see the lunar eclipse. I didn’t have a fancy camera or telescope. I grabbed my binoculars that I use for bird watching, put on a coat and some boots, and quietly slid through the door onto the back porch and down the stairs into the darkness of our backyard. When I looked up, I saw what the Bible describes, “the moon turned to blood.”
Ancient observers saw signs in the moon and the sun, portents of “the day of the Lord.” In the book of Acts, Peter preaches from the prophet Joel, “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (Acts 2:20) What frightened generations long ago has become Instagram gold for our generation, as backyard astronomers posted their expertly timed pictures of the longest partial lunar eclipse since 1440. At 3 hours, 28 minutes and 23 seconds, the November 2021 eclipse will hold that record until 2669.
The timing couldn’t be better as we enter the Advent season, and the Scriptures point us toward the Lord’s coming. For churches that follow the three-year cycle of readings called the lectionary, Advent begins with readings about the second coming of Christ. Before the coming of the Christ Child, the faithful are called to look up, watch and wait. You don’t know the hour or the time of the Lord’s coming. Prepare the way of the Lord. Keep watch. Be alert. Your redemption is drawing near.
Getting up before dawn to witness this celestial event took some preparation on my part. Unlike the second coming, the actual time is easily known, thanks to modern science and Google. I set my alarm for 3:45 am with the hope that the sky would be clear. Lack of sleep is definitely part of the eclipse watching experience.
As I looked up into the crystal clear sky, I remembered the words of the Psalmist:
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)
Gazing up at the blood red moon, I felt such awe and wonder that the God who made the heavens and earth so long ago was still calling us to pay attention. Look up! Be alert! Watch!
We don’t need signs and wonders to know that God cares for us and wants to save us. Every day offers us glimpses of God’s love and grace and opportunities to share with others. The season of Advent invites us to prepare the way for God’s love to be born anew into our hearts and through us into the world. My eclipse experience reminds me that looking up and keeping watch for Christ’s coming requires preparation. Advent is a season of preparation, and the work of preparation makes Christmas Day all the more joyful.
This week, we swap the turkeys and pumpkins for trees and wreaths. Orange and brown segue to red and green. With thankful hearts, we deck the halls, preparing our homes and churches for the season of giving. I hope to retain the sense of awe in my spirit that the One who sustains the universe also numbers the hairs on my head and counts the beats of my heart.
Whether you are religious, spiritual or someone who wonders about it all, I hope that the season of preparation invites you to reflect on the beauty of life and our shared human connections. In the words of the song, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Over the years,
I have found that the anticipation that builds
through preparation leads
to a deeper joy and a stronger faith. I can hear the prophet calling across the desert
under the stars, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”