Farnham & St. John's
Torrence's Weekly Message
“The Star of Bethlehem – The Cosmic Gift”

“Star of wonder, star of light, star of royal beauty bright!” Such familiar words this time of year spark a humming of the heart as light hovers around a manger scene somewhere within an inner darkness. Especially as the winter solstice of the year 2020 plunges us into the longest darkest night of this year. As the COVID virus pandemic surges, even mutates, we wonder if this year could get even darker.

And yet, tonight there will be the brightest light in the heavens since approximately 800 years ago. Perhaps the brightest light since two thousand plus years ago. Today marks a “Great Conjunction” of the two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, appearing as an amazing cosmic event available to the naked eye. This year what we may see is dependent on another “conjunction”: the clarity of the night skies where we might be searching and our longing for clarity of vision on this night leading up to THE night of nights in our journey of faith.

The thought has been for centuries that such a Great Conjunction or even one greater than we may see tonight was what we know as The Star of Bethlehem. The great light that beckoned and guided Wise Ones to the place of the Savior’s birth.

2020 has been dubbed as a year never to be forgotten in our lifetime. Was it just because of its “darkness?” Because of the cosmic storms that threatened life physically, emotionally, psychically, socially, spiritually? A year that created immense havoc on the familiar ways of life as we had come to know life and live it? Maybe! Many will remember this year for just this reason.

But I wonder if that is too thin a resolution by which to remember 2020. Because that conclusion leaves out the light and ignores the cosmic reality that light can pierce any darkness without the darkness overcoming it. And, thus, a fuller not to be forgotten final aspect of this year not to be forgotten is the coming of the Great Light of 2020 – the cosmic gift 2020 has to offer as this year finally wanes and a new year rises.

The Wise Ones would never have reached the manger where Christ was born if they had only journeyed during the day. We, as they were, are day blind to starlight. When we need light to search for what is needed to shine on the way forward, how stunning to realize that it is often best found when we are traveling through the darkness.

Don’t miss out on the cosmic gift the Star of Bethlehem offers us tonight and in the next few nights till Christmas night. This cosmic gift this year offers a reappearance of Great Light in a dark time to lead us to the Source of Light and Life. The light, as we seek it, open our eyes to it, shines in our own inner darkness, warms us body, soul and spirit and draws us towards healing, wholeness and peace waiting to be birthed in and through us. The gift of darkness, the gift of Light – the Great Conjunction to lead to the birthing of the yet to come of the Holy Vision of the One who says, “I make all things new – again, and again, and again!”

Dear ones, let us open to the light that seeks us with great Love, especially in this time we and the world need it so greatly. This is the clarity of vision the year 2020 offers us, so long as we turn towards the heavenly light to lead us through and beyond this darkness

Blessed by the Holy as we journey together through darkness toward Light . . .

Background photo by  Ivana Cajina on Unsplash. No permissions required.
Jupiter & Saturn Great Conjunction on December 21st
(By Charles Q. Choi on December 17, 2020 from Scientific American)

This holiday season, the most special thing to see in the sky won’t be flying reindeer pulling a sleigh, but rather a rare celestial rendezvous—a cosmic gift of sorts, many lifetimes in the making. On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will meet in a “great conjunction,” the closest they could be seen in the sky together for nearly 800 years.

An astronomical conjunction occurs when any two heavenly bodies appear to pass or meet each other as seen from Earth. To make one “great,” though, requires an encounter between our solar system’s two largest planets. The orbits of Jupiter and Saturn align to allow the giant worlds to seemingly convene roughly every 20 years.

However, some great conjunctions are, well, greater than others. The slightly oval shape of Jupiter and Saturn’s orbits, and how inclined each orbit is with respect to the sun’s equator, causes the planets’ closeness in the sky to fluctuate across their cyclic conjunctions. During some great conjunctions, the two worlds appear to come so close as to practically hug each other; during others, they seem to approach no nearer than arm’s length. (Of course, the planets are never actually close at all; during their December 21 encounter, they will still be separated by more than 730 million kilometers.)

For the last great conjunction, on May 28, 2000, the apparent distance between Jupiter and Saturn in the sky was 68.9 arc minutes, or more than twice the diameter of the full moon. In contrast, with 2020’s great conjunction—which coincides with the December solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the longest in the southern—the gas giants will appear separated by just 6.1 arc minutes. That is roughly the thickness of a dime held at arm’s length.

“If you have a telescope, you’ll be able to see both the rings of Saturn and the Galilean moons of Jupiter close together at the same moment,” says astronomer Jackie Faherty at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

In a way, that particular detail makes this year’s astronomical spectacle all the more poetic: The last time Jupiter and Saturn appeared so close was July 16, 1623, back when Galileo was still alive, a little more than a decade after he first used a telescope to discover Jupiter’s four largest moons that now collectively bear his name. The odds are low, however, that Galileo or anyone else on Earth managed to witness that great conjunction, which was virtually impossible to see because of its apparent position near the sun. The last great conjunction to appear as close and as visible as the upcoming one occurred on March 4, 1226. “For perspective, Genghis Khan was still roaming Asia then,” says astronomer Patrick Hartigan at Rice University in Houston.
Picture of Jupiter & Saturn with the new moon setting taken last summer from Courtenay Altaffer's with a cell phone. Tonight those planets will converge to look like one very bright star. With a telescope (and maybe binoculars) you'll be able to see the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. Photo courtesy of Anne Neuman.
You can see the upcoming great conjunction in detail with binoculars and telescopes, “but the best part about it is we’ll be able to watch it with the naked eye,” Faherty says. Find a spot where you can watch the sunset with a clear horizon in front of you, free of trees or buildings. In the hour or so after nightfall, first Jupiter will appear in the western sky, and then Saturn, both shining dots distinguishable from the stars by the fact they do not twinkle. “They will likely be visible even with light pollution—Jupiter is pretty bright,” Hartigan says.

Although the great conjunction will arrive on December 21, “you should be watching Jupiter and Saturn draw close every night until then,” Faherty recommends. Otherwise, “it’d be like tuning into the finale of a show without seeing all the episodes before it to get you caught up on what’s going on. By watching them get closer and closer, you can get a sense how celestial mechanics works in the nighttime sky.”
Great conjunctions have at times drawn scientists to speculate over their possible links with major events. For instance, Johannes Kepler investigated whether the Star of Bethlehem, which in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew guided the Three Wise Men to Christ’s birth, was a great conjunction, calculating that one did occur in 7 B.C. “Often astronomers like to look through stories from ancient times and see if there might be an astronomical phenomenon behind something captivating that people saw,” Faherty says. (Hartigan notes that ancient great conjunction was not an especially close or remarkable one.)

After this great conjunction ends, stargazers need not wait centuries for the next close one. Another rendezvous where the giant planets are separated by just six arc minutes will arrive on March 15, 2080, Hartigan says. “A young person who goes out and sees this great conjunction now can potentially see the next close one in 2080,” he says. “It’d be a nice connection between generations, one that makes you think about all those who have seen these conjunctions in the past—and those who will glimpse it in the future.”

All in all, the great conjunction is a reminder of how one can find solace in the constancy of heavenly cycles over the millennia given the inconstancy of modern times, Faherty says. “We get caught up in things that happen over the small given amount of time that a human life exists under, but astronomy encompasses a timeframe so much more than that,” she notes. “In the face of everything that is going on, you can find perspective in astronomical timeframes.”
Christmas Eve 
Watch for and listen to a Christmas Eve Fireside Message from Torrence and a Special Christmas Program of Music, Dance and Readings by the Young People of St. John's & N. Farnham. These video YouTube Christmas Eve specials will be sent to you the morning of Christmas Eve.

Christmas Morning
10 a.m. N. Farnham - 11 a.m. St. John's (rain, snow or sunshine)
A time to Ring the Bells to celebrate Christmas Morning. We will gather (socially distanced and wear a mask) at the outdoor church bell at each church promptly at the above time(s).
Bring a bell to ring or a creative noise maker. If not a bell perhaps a metal pan and spoon, a drum, spoons to clack together, just something that can make a joyful noise. The Bell Ringing will be followed by a socially distanced "Walk-Through" of the Sanctuary and lighting of a candle at the Manger Scene. If you are unable to attend in person, wherever you are and with whomever you are sheltering, set aside either 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. for a few minutes to read the Gospel of Luke's birth narrative (Luke 2: 1-14) aloud, ring a bell ,make a joyful noise and light a candle. Joy to the World!
Upcoming Services
Except for Christmas Morning as noted above all of our services are video, only.
The Parish Prayer List
for those in need of God's comfort and healing
Courtenay Altaffer
John Barber
Martha Berger
Randall Bone
Sue Bowie
Nancy Allin Bush
Constance Edwards
Bob File
David Gallagher
Regina Griggs
Barbara Grander
The Rev. Howard Hanchey
Weir Harman
Billy Hooper
Rebecca Hubert
Marcia Jenkins
Stephanie, Nick & Donovan Kaywork
Jim & Sharon Krider
Mary Douglas Lawton
The Rt. Rev. Peter Lee
Susan Lewis
Frank Lynch
Susannah Marais
Pat Merkel
Tommy Neuman
Judi Newman
Kirsten Palubinski
James Rynd
Bennie Shepherd
Debbie Belfield Stacks
Scott Strickler
Waldy Sulik
Billy Tennyson
Roclyn Tennyson
John Welch, II
Matthew Yates
Rose Mary Zellner and
all the victims of COVID 19
and for those serving in our armed forces.
Royce Baker
David Berger
Ryan Berger
Allen Crocker
Randy Crocker
Court Garretson
Cameron Heidenreich
Dan Heidenreich
Charles Jones
Daniel Kirk
Mark Lawton
Scott Longar
Luis Loya
Christopher Strickler
Gavin Wade McClung
and Travis Pullen
Upcoming Birthdays & Anniversaries
Dec. 30th - Lynn & Ed Elliott
Jan. 6th - John Barber
Jan 2oth - Marilyn Day
Jan. 25th - Bob Snavely
Jan. 25th Sandy Wade Hagan
Jan. 26th - Sally King
Jan. 26th - Dougie Lawton
Jan. 26th - Priscilla Wellford
28 Junius & Martha Berger