Grace, Mercy, Love, and Christmas

The Great Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn, December 21, 2020

Back when Pluto was still considered a planet, I was a young person with a well-worn book about the solar system.  Reading about the planets fascinated me- how hot or cold they were, what their atmospheres where made from, how large or small they were, their gravity.  And just what was that giant red spot on Jupiter, anyway? And how can that one spot on Jupiter be bigger than my entire planet?  And what about those rings on Saturn? I was fascinated by all the facts and details. 

I read that book many times over.  Yes, I was a nerd.  I’m still proudly flying my nerd flag.  And, if anyone is asking, I still think Pluto is a planet!

Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the sky, by what we can see, and by what we can’t.  When I heard about the upcoming Great Conjunction, or the “Christmas Star” event, I started wondering where could I find a dark sky in my area in hopes of capturing the moment. 

My man found a place an hour north of where we live on his way to work one day.  A few days later he and I went out scouting together and found two places about an hour south.  It’s so cloudy here in the December Midwest, it seemed a good idea to hedge our bets with the weather.   You plan the best you can and hope the weather cooperates.

Sunday night was a trial run trip to the North location.  What a night that was!  I got lost, was visited by a nice county sheriff inquiring about my activities, was unreasonably cold, and even lost the tool for my tripod!  And, the photos?  Meh. But the blessing was precious time with my sons and I left with new knowledge about the shot I was looking to capture.  It was a learning experience for the real deal.

Last night, the night of the actual Conjunction, our South location was forecasted to be “partly cloudy”, while the North location was out of the question.  I was cautiously hopeful, so we rolled out.  Usually, for a night shoot I take one, maybe 2 lenses.  Last night, for the once in a lifetime event, I took several!  Didn’t want to be caught shorthanded and my man was there to help carry the load.

We set up on a lake dam about 20 minutes before the sunset.  There is something about holding a camera in my hands, framing a shot, planning, moving along, trying again.  A friend recently told me I am “hunting for moments to capture”.   There is truth to that.  The hunt brings me almost as much joy as the photo. In anticipation of capturing the conjunction, I was that little kid again, excited, flipping through my solar system book, looking for something new to see and learn.

The sun began to set. The clouds I was worrying about blocking the view added such beauty and drama to the sky that I couldn’t pass up a few shots of that gift.

Sunset, December 21, 2020

Finally, Jupiter appeared, faintly at first, then brighter.  Saturn joined in. A few stars began to twinkle. We stood patiently, watching them all glow brighter as the sky grew darker.  We talked in hushed tones about it being almost 800 years since man had gazed upon what we were now seeing.    

The Great Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn, just after sunset, December 21, 2020

As we talked, I took photos, moving along the dam, changing lenses, changing perspectives.  I chose Gamora over Star Lord, then moved on to Diana, then to Ronda.  Each piece of my gear has a name.  It’s that nerd thing; I can’t escape it!  These photos were taken with Veronica, my camera, and Ronda, my favorite lens.  She’s named after Ronda Rousey- she’s strong.  She’s taken some hits but she’s tough and can usually get the job done. 😊

Between shots, my husband and I stood there quietly in the moonlight and just gazed upon what, for us, was a “once in a lifetime event”.  There was a steady breeze rustling the cattails on the edge of the lake.  Small creatures were rummaging around in the brush.  Everything else was eerily silent and still and somber.  There was time for reflection and prayer and thankfulness.

Was this great conjunction a replay of the “Christmas Star”?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  For my part, I wonder if there is a bigger picture to consider.  Could it be, our God in his great mercy, after an incredibly sad and stressful year, blessed us with this event for the first time in 800 years?  Could it be, in his grace, he used his creation right here at Christmas time to remind the world of that original star?  Could it be, out of his love for us, he refocused us on the arrival of his son Jesus Christ, on that night so long ago? 

“Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2:1-2 (ESV)

I think maybe God invited the world to stop what we were doing, to be still, to look up into his heavens, and think about that first Christmas, to think about our Savior, Jesus.

“The true light (Jesus), which gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” 

John 1:9 (ESV)

It was a beautiful moment out there in the quiet moonlight, gazing into the heavens. 

I am thankful.

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