Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21 “Morning Star”

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Stardom, stardust, stargazing, starlets, star-like, star-crossed, star-struck, starry-eyed, starburst, five-star hotels or restaurants, four-star movies, five-star generals, stars and stripes, “You can thank your lucky stars,” “When you wish upon a star” and on and on we could go.  Stars have been important in the development of our vocabulary and language.  Much of this recalls a former time when people actually believed that the stars determined human and cosmic destiny.  Many centuries ago, people believed that the earth was the center of the universe and the sun and stars revolved around the earth.  Since the earth was the center of the universe, and humankind was the crown of creation, it stood to reason that the stars and planets circling earth should be concerned about our destiny. There was a time when many people actually believed that their fates and the course of history itself were influenced and determined by the movement of stars.

The etymology of some of the words we use today reflects this former conviction:  “star-crossed” as opposed by fate; “disaster” as the shattering of a star. Of course, for most of us, this is superstition.  There are those who faithfully consult their horoscopes before they even drink their first cup of coffee for the day.  And there are those celebrities like Eric Estrada, Nancy Reagan, and Michael Jackson who seek the guidance of “certified” astrologers and spiritual advisers.  And as any visit to a bookstore will demonstrate, there are those who are into what is called the New Age as they look to the stars.

But for most of us, the stars are heavenly bodies made up of so much gas, so many miles from earth, burning at a certain rate and following the inexorable laws of physics.  We can appreciate the beauty of a starlit night with the love of our lives, but we realize the stars do not really care if we meet a tall, dark stranger or a shapely, beautiful blonde. They are simply part of a vast (and for the most part) indifferent universe.  Although our vocabulary and language may reflect the superstitions of our ancestors’ eras, we moderns have, for the most part, substituted astronomy for astrology and approach horoscopes the way we do fortune cookies.

The Bible, however was written when many people in the world believed the stars did determine human and cosmic destiny.  In many cultures stars and planets were understood to be gods and goddesses to be worshipped.  Throughout Deuteronomy, I and II Kings, and the prophets we read warnings against worshipping the sun, moon, and stars.  We are told in II Kings that even within the sacred temple precincts of Jerusalem, the people of Israel worshipped the heavenly bodies during times of idolatry.  And throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, there are warnings against astrologers, mediums, and wizards.  The message of the Bible is clear: the sun, moon and stars are part of God’s good creation serving wonderful purposes as they determine the seasons and provide light.  But they have no power over human and cosmic destiny.  That is in the hands of God. Paul makes this point in one of the most familiar passages of the Bible: “For I am confident that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, not things present, nor things to come, nor powers, not height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Height probably refers to the highest point to which the stars may rise and depth to the lowest point to which they may descend in the zodiac. In other words, Paul is saying that nothing, not even the movement of the stars, can separate us from Christ, or defeat God’s purpose for us.  

But for all its warnings against the idolatry and astrological abuses associated with the stars in the ancient culture, the Bible does appreciate the beauty and function of the heavenly bodies and can use the stars as symbols of God’s truth.  What we have today in this final chapter of the Bible is a powerful use of the symbol of a star in communicating the vibrant identity and redemptive purpose of Jesus to those Christians at the end of the first century facing persecution under the Roman Emperor Domitian. Jesus is called “the bright morning star.”  Of course, we know the morning star as the planet Venus.  But John uses that symbol to communicate something profound and pastoral to his persecuted little community of faith in Asia Minor. 

First of all, John says something about the clear and unmistakable witness of Jesus.  We all know the saying, “It’s always darkest before dawn.” Before dawn in the dark sky, the planet Venus (the bright morning star) appears.  It virtually shines alone in majesty and luminosity.  In the darkest of times, it stands as a beacon in contrast to the surrounding gloom. Certainly, that struggling, persecuted little community of faith receiving John’s letter would appreciate this aspect of the morning star. They lived in a very dark age of death and lies, oppression and greed, idolatry and immorality. They lived in a time when a mad man sat on the imperial throne and when reason was judged to be insanity if not treason. They lived in a time when good was labelled evil. And John reminds them that at this dark moment of human history, they need not despair. They need not become confused, intimidated, or overwhelmed.  There is a bright morning star shining for them and indeed for the whole world.  There is one to whom they can look as the incarnation of love and truth, mercy and justice, faithfulness and strength, compassion and courage.  John ends his book by saying to his contemporaries, “In this dark and sinister age, look to Jesus as your example and inspiration.  If you keep your eyes on him, you need not despair or be misled.”

Do we live in a dark and sinister age? Do we live in a time when good is called evil, truth is labelled lie, and love is branded weakness?  I would have to say “Yes and No.”  We live in a conflicted age, in a confusing era. We live at a time when it is not always easy to discern good and evil.  We live in a time of unprecedented progress in the fields of science and medicine as well as in a time of unparalleled violence and greed.  Our age is not like that of the Seer John when devils like the Emperor Domitian wore horns and angels like John sprouted wings.  Some of our confusion over morality and ethics may be because we have wandered from the straight and narrow.  But I believe that just as much of our confusion is our painful discovery that things are not always as black and white as our parents and grandparents believed.  We realize today that much of the morality we inherited has more to do with the customs and prejudices of a previous time than with any absolute good ordained by God.  And some of our confusion comes from the Pogo discovery: “We have met the enemy and he is us!” Solzhenitsyn, who witnessed some of the grossest evil ever perpetuated against humankind, says in Gulag Archipelago, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through every human being.” Perhaps we are a little more honest about ourselves than some previous generations.  We know what impure mixtures of good and evil we really are.

In a gray world such as ours as well as in the dark, sinister world of John, Christ can serve as the bright morning star as he enlightens our paths and enables us to see what is in and around us.

At any rate, even though our time is not the time of John the Seer, we too need a bright morning star.  In times of such confusion and bewilderment, chaos and upheaval, we need to refocus our eyes on Jesus.  In doing so, we will rediscover the primacy of compassion, rededicate ourselves to the search and affirmation of truth, flesh out our love into action, embrace the necessity of forgiveness, and orient our lives through a primary commitment to God’s justice and righteousness.  In a gray world such as ours as well as in the dark, sinister world of John, Christ can serve as the bright morning star as he enlightens our paths and enables us to see what is in and around us.

There is a second significance to the symbol of the bright morning star in John’s Revelation.  The morning star appears just before dawn. It heralds the dawning of a new day.  It reminds us that the brightest light is yet to be.  This was a crucial message for that struggling little church persecuted in Asia Minor.  It was not enough to look to Jesus as their example and inspiration in the dark and sinister age in which they lived.  Although he was in their midst, they still suffered persecution, torture, and imprisonment.  Their world still boasted arrogantly of war and oppression, of slavery and greed, of idolatry and immorality.  The cry from their lips echoed the cry of the faithful throughout the Psalms, “How long, O Lord?  How long?” And John, through his symbol of the bright morning star heralding the dawn of a new day, said, “Not long.  The Kingdom will come.  God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.  The reign of mad men like Domitian will be replaced by the reign of Jesus who shall rule for ever and ever.  Peace will replace war.  Sharing will take the place of greed.  True worship will banish idolatry.  Righteousness will drive out immorality.  All injustice, all suffering, all tears, and even death itself will end as God and humanity dwell in peace and harmony.” We can scarcely imagine what comfort and hope this message gave to those struggling first-century Christians.

But what about us?  Do we feel with the same intensity as those first-century Christians the need for God’s Kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven?  Do we really want the transformation promised by the New Heaven and New Earth?  Or do we prefer the stability and familiarity of the status quo from which we benefit?  Is our desire for the radical transformation of God’s coming rule or simply more of what we already enjoy?  Is there still a place for the longing for God’s coming reign on this earth, or is that a relic of Christianity we need to discard? Is there still a place in the liturgy of the church to pray with conviction that ancient prayer which concludes John’s Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come”?

We who live isolated and insulated from much of the world’s suffering perhaps have much to learn at this point. In our fine homes and neighborhoods and in our predictable and comfortable lives we can scarcely realize that tens of thousands of children starve to death every day on this planet– that countless other children suffer indescribable abuse and neglect – that thousands of men, women, and children endure torture and death at the hands of brutal regimes – that grinding poverty is the lot of billions from the first to the last breath of their lives – that every attempt for justice, freedom and equality for millions ends in crushed hopes and savage death. Our lifestyles allow us to overlook the pain and suffering which still mark the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters on this planet.

But if we are to take the good news of Jesus Christ into all parts of this world – if we are to flesh out the compassion and justice of God’s Reign in every corner of this earth – if we are to reach out in solidarity and love to all who hurt (and is not that our mission as followers of Jesus?), then perhaps we will discover the significance of the bright morning star heralding God’s new day even for our world.

Allan Boesak, the great South African preacher, wrote these words as an exposition of our passage for today in an attempt to articulate the need for the church to recover this aspect of its faith.  These words were written before the fall of apartheid and when the lot of Black South Africans was one of absolute misery and oppression.  Listen to his words and search your heart for your need to see afresh God’s bright morning star.

What is left as John surveys God’s city of justice and peace, the city of delight and light, is the longing of the church:  Come, Lord Jesus.

For the pain and the tears and the anguish must end:  Come, Lord Jesus.

For the comfort of this world is not comfort at all:  Come, Lord Jesus.

For there must be an end to the struggle when the unnecessary dying is over:  Come, Lord Jesus.

For the patterns of this world must change:  Come, Lord Jesus.

For hate must turn to love and fear must turn to joy:  Come, Lord Jesus.

For war must cease, and peace must reign:  Come, Lord Jesus.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”  And let them who hear say, “Come.”  Amen.

-Allan Boesak


John ends his book as he began it: on the Lord’s Day in Christian worship.  New Testament scholars tell us that these closing words are a Eucharistic text.  In other words, they were used at the Lord’s Table by the early church.  We know that by the second century CE, the church formalized these words in a liturgy used at the Lord’s supper. The Didache, the instructional manual of the church, demonstrates clearly the centrality of this Maranatha prayer among those first Christians.  At this Table the faithful still gather and pray, “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.” This prayer pleads for the presence of Christ in our world. We need him right now as we seek to live in faithful ways. But this prayer also pleads for his final coming – for that time when God’s reign will come and God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.  At this Table we too look to the bright morning star for guidance and for our destiny.


Jesus shines as the bright morning star, but he calls us to be the light of the world and reflect his glory and compassion, his truth and love, his courage and integrity.  What faith he must have in us to call us to such a holy identity and mission!  May we shine to the glory of God!

Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21 (NRSV)

12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes,[g] so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 

16 “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.[h]

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