Did you know that in certain places around the world there are “dark-sky preserves”?
These are geographical areas in the world where the sky is free of any artificial light pollution or skyglow: where the darkness is considered to be “true.” Wikipedia keeps a list of these places; perhaps you live near one. Most of us don’t.
Dark-sky preserves generally exist and are distinguished for their astronomical purpose; the “true” darkness there makes it easier to identify and see celestial bodies. But scholars point out that in these areas, even a casual observer will be astonished by the way stars look in a truly dark sky. What we tend to see in our daily lives – even those beautiful starry nights that catch our attention – are faded versions of what a real starry sky must look like.
I love stars and star-watching. I live near a large city now, but I grew up in a rural area, and there seem to be more and brighter stars there than here, without the glow of streetlights and building lights to occlude them. So I can imagine that the stars in a dark-sky preserve must be even more striking.
We know our God pays special attention to stars, and to darkness. Isaiah 40:26 tells us that He “brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.” God uses the stars to make a promise to Abraham (Gen. 22:7), and He uses them in an illustration later to chide Job (Job 38:31).
We might also think of stars we we read this metaphor in Philippians for the Christian life:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life (2:14-16).
I suspect that, just as we’ve lost “true” darkness over time and along with it our ability to see stars naturally, we’ve also lost the profound truth of this verse among a morass of distractions. Can you say that you really do all things without grumbling or disputing? Think back over the past five days. What is your success rate? Are you proven to be blameless and innocent? Can you say that you are living “above reproach” in the eyes of both believers and non-believers around you?
Because here’s the thing: the Christian life is really pretty simple. Simple like true darkness and stars. As believers, I think sometimes we’d prefer it not to be. We spend a lot of time plotting and planning how to be “better” believers and how to draw others to Christ. We attend seminars and read books and engage in discipleship programs. We serve coffee in our lobbies and put ping-pong tables in the sanctuary. We complicate matters with plans of action and twelve-point philosophies and all sorts of other things.
But the key to being a “better” Christian and drawing others to Christ is mostly…to live like Christ. The end. Every commandment, every desire God has for us can be reduced to that. Want to love God? Live like Christ, a light in the world. Want to love others? Live “above reproach,” as He did. Want to evangelize? As you live like Christ and show yourself to be a child of God, you will stand out. Other people will be drawn to you.
People stop and look at stars. They can’t help it. I do, and always have; I’m drawn to that sparkle in the darkness no matter how cold it is or no matter where I might be going. I always smile when we visit my family on Christmas and I can see the brilliance in the sky; it means home. If we’re living the way Christ asked us to live, that’s what we’ll be: a focal point of notice, a bright spot in our surroundings, a brilliance that invites others to stop and look.
If we live as Christ did and love as God loves, the rest will take care of itself.