Winter-time Jesus {where is he when the holidays are hard?}

God took Abram outside and said,

Look up at the sky…”

Genesis 15:5

Skies are clear(ish) tonight. Care to seize some quiet in this moment and gaze at the beauty that’s been hidden behind a cover? Go outside and look up at the sky? While you’re out there, look for Orion – you know, the warrior guy with the belt made of three stars. Do you know his story?

Several years ago I reaquainted myself with Orion, having forgotten his meaning. A little online research summarized his celestial persona across eras and peoples: Babylonians viewed him with a large staff in hand and called him The True Heavenly Shepherd of God. Egyptians called him Osiris, the god of light, or the god of death, afterlife, and rebirth. Greeks translated the constellation as a giant hunter with a club and shield, so tall, beautiful and strong he could walk through the deepest oceans with his head still above water. Other ancient cultures named him a magic archer, reaper, defender, giant, soldier; accompanied by either a staff, rod, sword, shield, or bow and arrow. In summary, his cross-cultural identity is a warrior/shepherd/hunter.

Which reminds me of someone.

Someone who leads me with rod and staff through valleys of shadow and high and stormy gales and paths shining brighter. Someone who takes care of His own, who defends me against my enemies, who tells me to stand still and watch Him fight for me. Someone whose strength and beauty is forever for me, even if I tried to hide in the remotest part of the sea. Someone whose mercy and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life.

I remember it was a January when I first started talking to my Jesus in the sky. I’d tuck the kids in and slip out the front door to find Him standing right over my neighbor’s house, and we’d chat until the cold took over my toes. Mostly I would wonder at His greatness, and thank Him for all the winning He was doing, perched high overhead, like a secret service agent keep my family safe through the night. I told Him He was doing a great job. We bonded, my True Heavenly Shepherd and I.

Several weeks later I bid Orion farewell as He slipped below the western horizon, eager to greet him when He came back around the next winter. Little did I know that before I’d see Him again, several of those dear to me would face enemies whose darkness towered larger than I’d ever experienced before. It was a year full of questions and fear and searching desperately for a God who is fighting for His beloved – because if He was really fighting, wouldn’t all this be gone?

Then one November evening – must have been just after the time change – I was driving along heavy-hearted as Mack Hatcher Parkway curved me toward a clear view of the southeastern sky. I tilted my head sharply, recognizing the three signature belt-stars before me, but they were in the wrong place! They were lined up vertically, just above the tree line. WHAT? Orion was lying down?! Laid out low across the horizon, bow pointed toward the heavens. The lump in my throat got bigger as we resumed our conversation (not so civil this time).

bfc9f19f8c540b567e3616935baf3fb8
Orion at 9pm in early December, belt nearly vertical

My Warrior! My Good Shepherd! What are you doing? Why are you lying down? Are you tired? Are you sad? Are you afraid? Is the darkness too dark for you? Has your enemy pinned you down against this messy earth? Are you not strong enough to overtake him? Do you ever feel like you are losing, like you can’t breathe? Because it sure does look like it and feel like it from where I stand. This posture of yours does not sit well with me.

But I know Him well enough to know that no darkness is dark to Him, even when I can’t see, and my soul cried out further.

Rise! Rise up, my warrior, and fight these fights for us! Come quickly and do not delay! Come show yourself strong. We need you, oh how we need you.

 

If these questions or heart-cries resonate with you this winter, let me encourage you. Actually, let the starry hosts encourage you. They talk about God’s glory and goodness. The next time you look up at the sky, look for Orion. Did you find Him? You’ll see evidence of the good news God is already writing in the stars over your family, because you’ll see Orion in His higher December posture: well above the tree line.

Rising.

And if the fear grips you wide awake during the night, bundle up and go outside and look up at the sky again.

Because in the darkest watch you’ll see His trajectory materializing: slowly rising; steadily advancing. He’s striding across the expanse every cold night chasing down the longest dark, and always pointing to the North Star with his bow. As you sleep, He’s fighting for you! He’s making a way where there is no way. He is not pinned back, He is not losing the fight – He’s constantly coming ‘round again! And even on the nights He looks laid out so low, it is not His true position – it’s just how things look from your particular static, momentary, earth-bound view.

 

orion_constellation_labelled
image credit: viewfromascope.com

 

Now I’ve watched Orion through several winters, and I know by late February we’ll see Him standing upright after dusk. And by March, having guarded, fought and conquered over us through our coldest winter dark,  He will march on to another hemisphere to do the same for them. Every November Orion will come back – He’s faithful like that – to fill the darkness with hope and victory and provision once again.

It may not mean every broken place in our lives will be made whole by spring, nor does it mean every story will end “perfectly.” But it reminds us to lift our eyes and remember the nature of the One who created and named every star and every man. It reminds us that the momentum of all of heaven is on OUR side (actually, we are on His side) even when life feels like the opposite. It reminds us to draw near and ask for what we need: on earth as it is in heaven {in the heavenlies!}. It call us up to stand on faith, as Abram did, that He is a good God of the impossible true to His promises.

 

So look for Him in the sky tonight?

Stay a while in the cold, clear night

and talk to Him, talk to your Orion.

Give Him what-for if you need to –

He can handle it.

Look at your Jesus

and remember

what He’s done

all the battles He’s fought for you

the enemies He’s already defeated.

 

Ask Him anything you want, or ask Him–

what do you think about me?

how much do you love me?

why would you fight for me?

is it hard? is it worth it?

What are you promising me

under these same stars that numbered

Abram’s promise?

 

What are we gonna do about

the bear and the dragon and the scorpion

spinning and crouching overhead?

Are you winning,

are you going to win?

What season am I in and

what is my role in the fight and

what is yours

and what does my heart need to know

about this winter season?

 

Then come outside later

and look again?

Watch Him do it:

watch Him soar Northward.

Ask Him if it’s going to be okay.

 

And thank Him that the morning will come.

 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

   where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

   the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—

   he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel

   will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—

   the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,

   nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—

   he will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going

   both now and forevermore.

Psalm 121

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