The sun will be darkened

Well, are you ready for August 21? People in North America will be treated to a fairly unusual sight—a full solar eclipse. For about two and a half minutes that day the moon’s sky disk will exactly match that of the sun’s, and there will be eerie twilight in the middle of the afternoon. Everybody in the country will notice diminished sunlight, but the darkest moon shadow (“the path of totality”) will fall on a line 70 miles wide that runs from Oregon through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Portland will see it fully a little after 10 A.M. PDT, Omaha about 1:00 P.M. CDT, and Charleston about 2:45 P.M. EDT.

You’d think these eclipses should be more common. But the moon’s orbit around Earth is different from Earth’s orbit around the sun by about five degrees. Furthermore, the moon’s orbit is elliptical, not perfectly circular. Thus the moon shadow usually misses Earth entirely, and total eclipses are pretty unusual. Only when the moon is relatively closer to Earth in its own flattened elliptical orbit does its disk seem big enough to cover the whole sun disk. I hope you experience this one in some way.

You’ve probably already heard the warnings about sneaking looks at it. Looking directly at the sun, even when partially or almost completely obscured, is a terrible idea—you can burn and scar your retinas permanently. Make sure that any children in your care that afternoon aren’t looking up. The only way I know of to have a look, short of visiting an observatory tricked out with special solar viewers, is to buy special eclipse dark glasses. Seriously—ordinary sunglasses do not give you nearly enough protection.

As I ponder God’s spectacular astronomical creations, I am reminded of some words Jesus himself said about strange phenomena in the heavenly bodies. He predicted some very hard times for the church after he ascended into heaven. But:

“Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29,30).

This eclipse is a teaching opportunity with younger members of your family to be mindful of the shortness of human life, the certainty of pain and suffering, the coming judgment and destruction of the physical world, and God’s magnificent promises of resurrection and creation of a new and better world.

I leave you with a stanza from an Easter hymn by Charles Wesley, songbird and poet laureate of Methodists:

Love’s redeeming work is done; fought the fight, the battle won.
Lo, our Sun’s eclipse is o’er; lo, he sets in blood no more.

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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