From yellow star to morning star: following the light of Christ amid darkness
The day before the 2016 election, President Obama predicted that, no matter which candidate won or lost or whose side we were on, the sun would come up in the morning. The next morning he said, “…that is one bit of prognosticating that actually came true. The sun is up. And I know everybody had a long night. I did as well.” That “long night” doesn’t feel over yet — even though the sun did, so to speak, “come up.”
These days, if I can even bear to open a newspaper or turn on the radio or TV news, what I see and hear hovers over my head like a dark cloud growing gloomier and heavier and more ominous with each new story. There’s so much fear and uncertainty, so much distress and anxiety about what’s happening now and how much more will happen to tense my muscles and break my heart.
During the presidential campaign, when I heard the hateful things spoken about Muslims and Mexicans and many others, about detention camps and special registrations and barring entry into our country, I had this thought that “I may just have to wear a yellow star.”
Not that I’d be forced to wear one, but it would show that I will not stand for these Nazi policies — and that I do stand with anyone who feels threatened because of who they are.
I was born and raised in the Jewish faith. When I was growing up, we didn’t talk a whole lot about the Holocaust, but it always loomed in the background. We’d see films documenting the concentration camps with their gas chambers and bones and other horrors that befell my people, and showing them wearing their yellow star badges.
Even though none of my own relatives perished in the Holocaust, I knew people with serial numbers tattooed on their arms from their days at Auschwitz. I was keenly aware of my history — both recent and back thru the centuries.
My grandparents were immigrants, fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century. My grandmother Pauline was only 12 years old when she and her sister stole across the border from Russia to Poland, got to Germany, and finally traveled in steerage on a ship to New York City.
I used to imagine their sufferings and courage and daring as they risked everything to start a new life in a strange place — never again to see dear ones left behind or the beloved sights of their homelands. They were grieving, but they were free! Free to worship God and study Torah, to live and mingle as they chose. Free from fear and shame. Free to be Jews.
Their stories fascinated me but were in the dim past. I was never afraid that anything like this would happen to me or my people again. Not that I didn’t hear about anti-Semitism or experience it myself.
I have my own story of being called “dirty Jew” in the school playground. And I knew keenly what if felt like to be a “minority.” I was one of less than a handful of Jewish kids in my school. My friends couldn’t quite get what I believed in since I didn’t believe in Jesus. I was an oddity.
My coming to Christian faith as a young adult didn’t change who I am. Judaism is my beloved heritage. It taught me to love God and neighbor, to seek righteousness and justice and mercy. And it led me to Jesus himself.
Light in darkness
So, in a dark time, I hope for the courage to take risks and shine my light. And yet, wearing a yellow star would just add more darkness to a world that craves the Light of Christ. A far more powerful act would be to offer myself wholly to Christ so that Divine Light might shine through me into the surrounding darkness.
In 2 Peter 1:19, the apostle Peter urges believers to pay attention to the word of God, spoken to them through the prophets, “as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
The morning star in Greek is “phosphoros” which means “light-bearing” or “light-bringing.” It’s what the Greeks called Venus, which isn’t even a star, but a planet — the brightest planet in our solar system. Unlike a star, it moves from east to west and it doesn’t twinkle but glows with steady light.
The morning star is a symbol of hope because its rising means day is about to break — the sun will soon shine. Like Christ, its appearance is sudden and unpredictable. We can’t know the exact time of its coming but we must wait in the darkness until it becomes visible.
God’s word, spoken to us through the prophets, is “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” (Ps 119:105) until comes the One Who, like a morning star, rises within our own hearts and at the heart of this world.
The Christians in the time of Peter had expected Christ to come again in their lifetimes. When this didn’t happen, some wondered if it ever would. Why the delay, they asked? They began to doubt that God actually intervened in our lives and our world. Many of us today feel the same way.
Doing for others
Having celebrated Christmas a couple months ago, did we miss its meaning? God coming as Jesus to live among us as a person is the most radical, self-giving way to show us how involved God truly is, how much God does care and wants to have a relationship with us! This is the Providence of God in which we rejoice as people of Providence!
All who lament a delay of the second coming of Christ are missing the point of Jesus’ saying “inasmuch as you do this unto the least of these you do it to me” (Mt 25:40). This means seeing Christ coming to us right now in the “least of these” and in each and every one, regardless of skin color, gender or gender identity, religious belief, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, tribe, nationality, or political party.
Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). Paul writes:
Don’t be associated with those who deceive you with empty words … For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true … Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them… (Eph 5:6-11).
In the Gospel of John it says:
In the beginning was the Word … in whom was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it (Jn 1:1, 4-5).
The source of our light is Christ who gives us strength and peace and courage to shine our light so that all may see and give glory to God. (Mt 5:16)
Between the yellow star and the morning star there’s an enormous chasm. Like the cross itself, the star as a symbol of shame and death is transformed into a symbol of light and life. Not long after I started thinking about wearing the yellow star, I learned about people wearing safety pins to convey safety and friendship to anyone feeling afraid, as targets of the hateful mood surrounding them. And there is so much very real fear among people of color and other people who are still minorities in our society.
Of course, Jews wore stars for the very opposite reason, but they weren’t the only ones the Nazis forced to wear badges: brown triangles for Roma people (gypsies), purple triangles for Jehovah’s witnesses, red triangles for political dissenters, pink triangles for homosexuals.
I read somewhere that when Venus — the morning star — first appears, the atmosphere breaks its light into many different colors, like a rainbow. The glory of God is like that — it embraces all of the beautiful rainbow colors of humanity and creation — and we — as God’s people, as lovers of Jesus, celebrate this rainbow of light.
We have to be brave and we have to be vigilant, and shine this Christ-light into the darkness and share our hope with each other and all who fear or despair. So let us speak, or write, or pray, or feed, or heal, or teach, or visit, or protest, or protect, or report, or show up, or stand up, or stand with, or go to jail, or sing, or serve, or help, or love on, or walk alongside.
We can put on safety pins or yellow stars or rainbow-colored triangles.
Or even more powerfully, let us “put on love,” which, as the apostle Paul wrote, “binds everything together in perfect unity” (Col 3:14). Let us “put on the armor of light.” For, Paul says, “now is the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near” (Rom 13:11-12).