The month of December is a time of growing darkness. As the earth turns on its access, the northern hemisphere receives diminishing sunlight until we reach the winter solstice on December 21. It’s not surprising that this season is marked by religious celebrations of light.

This year, the Jewish holiday of Hannukah and the Christian season of Advent began on the same day. Rituals involving candles mark the season for both religious traditions. Across different traditions, festivals of light circle the globe during this time of year including Diwali in India, lantern festivals in Japan and China, and bonfires in England. Across the United States, we decorate our yards with colored lights and put candles in our windows. In various ways, all of these celebrations recognize that we depend upon light for our lives. In the Christian faith, we recognize that Jesus is the light of the world and the source of all life.

There is beauty in a single candle and its ability to bring light to a dark room. There is great beauty in the candlelight services on Christmas Eve when the light from the Christ candle brings light to each person in the church, bringing warmth and representing hope. I celebrate the symbolism of sharing the light of candles. At the same time, I wonder if there are gifts in the darkness that we overlook because the dark  seems frightful or empty.

Recently, I had the opportunity to see some amazing photos taken by the Hubble telescope. Since its launch in 1990, this telescope has provided scientists—and the public—with access to images and information about space that was previously unimaginable. In many ways, it is a miracle of science and technology. The photos that I recently saw were actually taken back in 1995 when Hubble was still new and largely untested.

A scientist named Bob Williams decided that he wanted to point Hubble at a black area of space and to take photographs. Other scientists thought it was a waste of resources and could result in a public relations fiasco. But Williams, as director of the project, had the authority to use a certain percentage of Hubble’s time and he took what might have been a career-jeopardizing risk by seeing what Hubble might see. He directed the giant telescope to an area of space that seemed empty near the handle of the Big Dipper. For 100 hours, between December 18 and 28, Hubble looked and took photographs.

Hubble captured 342 images, some of which were exposed for 45 minutes. When these images were reviewed and processed, the findings were miraculous. In what looked like a dark and empty area of space, the giant telescope found more than 3,000 galaxies. Formed in different shapes and colors, some of these galaxies were 12 billion years old and all of them had countless stars and possibly planets. The universe is filled with more marvels than we can see.

This December, as the darkness grows, take time on a clear night to look into the night sky to marvel at stars we can see. Then imagine the light from the stars and galaxies that are hidden from our eyes and give thanks for the promise that we live as children of the loving creator of the universe and we find meaning for our lives as followers of Christ, the light of the world.

Grace and Peace,