Total Eclipse of the Son

 

“Why do you stand here looking into the sky?”

Acts 1:10

Yesterday was the highly anticipated Total Eclipse across the United States, and many found themselves staring up into the sky expecting to be dazzled. Millions of people interrupted their normal routines, stepped out of their places of work, and looked up at the sky. The more devout drove long distances to join camp outs and viewing parties for a glimpse of the spectacle. Photos all over the internet capture thousands of eyeballs hiding behind funny glasses all staring up at the sun.

Unless you were fortunate enough to be in the path of “totality” yesterday, you could about hear the collective sigh and countrywide letdown as the total solar eclipse came and went yesterday afternoon. “Really? That’s it? I thought it was going to get dark, or something.”

The media played on two core human desires to hype this “once in a lifetime” event. (Did you know this “once in a lifetime” spectacle actually occurs every 16 months someplace in the world?) We so deeply long (1) to be dazzled and amazed by a sense of spine-tingling wonder, and (2) to share such meaningful experiences with others. We long to be dazzled in the company of others. 

Some 2,000 years ago another crowd of people stood on a hill staring up at the sky. Luke tells the story in Acts 1:“[Jesus] was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?”  (Acts 1:10-11).

Can you imagine being one of the disciples watching Jesus ascend and then disappear in a cloud?  They just stood there stunned, gazing into the sky.  Luke uses the Greek word atenizō which means to look intently. These were not casual glances at the sky; their gaze was focused. And they stood awestruck.

Yet, for me the long build up and anticipation yesterday ended with anything but awestruck wonder. The underwhelming darkening effect felt more like an unwanted clouds coming momentarily to interrupt my sun tanning at the beach. They promised it would be “magical” but it felt more like ordinary storm clouds bringing a light afternoon shower. Granted, I was in St. Paul where an 83% eclipse was mostly hidden by clouds and light sprinkles.

I had stepped out of the Bethel Seminary library where I was studying to join a small crowd of students and faculty in the parking lot near Lake Valentine. The most interesting sight I beheld was the face of my old college Astronomy professor I had almost 20 years ago staring through his fancy telescope. (Side note: I registered for Astronomy with the hopes of wooing a girl with my knowledge of constellations on midnight walks only to discover the class was mostly doing advanced mathematics and physics. Oops!)

When the climax came at 1:06, there were half-hearted, sarcastic cheers from some unimpressed undergrads who immediately walked back inside saying, “Oh, well. We can watch the real thing on YouTube later.” So much for the magic.

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My old prof and his beloved telescopes

I wandered back up the path to the seminary, and returned to my pile of books scattered across a table in the back corner of the library.

While the entire nation was gazing at and talking about the eclipse of the sun, I now found myself contemplating the tragic, perennial eclipse of the Son — the countless ways each generation lets preoccupations and distractions overshadow the true Light of the World.

Each book on my table contained vivid accounts and descriptions of the Son whose light has both dazzled and blinded unsuspecting onlookers for millennia by his intellectual brilliance, radiantly beautiful way of life and relational warmth. I also paused to remember the day, about 20 years ago, when that light first shone into my heart, exposing and healing my spiritual blindness, and illuminating a new path for my life.

I turned my attention away from the social media eclipse coverage to ponder some of the Scriptures that invite us to fix our eyes on the Son in all his glorious splendor. Warning: To truly behold “the glory of the one and only Son…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) you may first need to put on the spectacles of faith. For “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Here are some of the scriptures that came to mind:

“As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light” (Matt 17:2).

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. …his eyes were like blazing fire….In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Rev. 1:12-16).

“In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son…and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:2-3).

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

“He alone is immortal and dwells in unapproachable light. No one has ever seen Him, nor can anyone see Him. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen” (1 Tim. 6:16).

“So Jesus told them, “For a little while longer, the Light will be among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become children of light” (John 12:35-36).

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

“For it is God, having said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” who shone in our hearts for the radiance of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

“[In the End] There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).

Yes, there is the sun, a sphere of plasma made up of gases spinning through space and holding the planets into orbit, and it has its own glory for sure. But then there is the Son who, by his word, brought (and holds) the sun and moon and stars — the entire universe — into existence!

Let us join the disciples on that hill long ago, staring up in in awestruck wonder, longing for the Son’s reappearance. But let us also heed the angel’s warning to not waste too much time standing around and staring up.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

In other words, “Nothing more to see here, move on and get to work! Turn your eyes now toward the fields ripe for harvest (Luke 10), and go ‘let your light shine before all people so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven'” (Matt 5). We’ve been commissioned and empowered to go carry on on Jesus’ ministry of bringing light into dark places, a message of hope where there is despair.

So, while I was a bit disappointed by the solar eclipse yesterday, I’m grateful it drew my heart back to the only Son truly worth all the media hype and attention.

May I suggest we all take a moment today to step outside the office today at an appointed time (say, 1:06pm), walk to a quiet hillside, look up to the sky and give thanks to the radiant Son who holds the stars and galaxies in existence, and who has come to rescue us from our darkness and help us learn to walk in the light.

While the solar eclipse may have been a once in a lifetime viewing experience, millions have been gathering at “viewing parties” all across the globe each Sunday for two millennia, to stand amazing in the presence of the Son who dwells in unapproachable light!

Oh, and by the way, this post is clearly mis-titled. For, according to John 1:5, the Light of this Son can never be totally eclipsed: The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

As we gather this for worship this Sunday perhaps we can sing together this old hymn:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

O soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

 

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