Thursday, December 8, 2011

Star gazing

Stars have always witnessed to me some of the vastness and mystery of God. They spoke of him to me long before I knew him. I can recall backpacking trips into empty spaces where city lights lie far beyond the horizon and where, during new moons, the night sky lit up in white neon. Those moments made an impression on me, as I now know they were designed to.

And what's more, God created those stars with the same love with which he created us. He knows each of them by name and, for all we know, has visited every one. This fancy astronomical notion doesn't diminish us, but rather elevates them. In ways we can't imagine, he has a knowledge of and abiding love for all he has created, extending out beyond the last, most distant galaxy.

As his human creation, we know God in the particular, most especially in the details of his incarnation. That is, in itself, quite enough for finite minds. But we can also glimpse something of God in the infinite--in the mind-boggling expansiveness of his universe. And all that's required to do this is stepping out onto the deck of a cottage (below) or, for us city dwellers, to hike over the next hill to find a place to stand, to look up and to be amazed.

On the subject of star gazing, the following story was written by Madeleine D'Engle and is, in an oddly appropriate way, one of my favorite Advent meditations. I also commend to you a short video of starry skies over Oregon that testify to God's glory in a way that words cannot.

A Sky Full of Children
I walk out onto the deck of my cottage, looking up at the great river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky. A sliver of a moon hangs in the southwest, with the evening star gently in the curve.

Evening. Evening of this day. Evening of my own life.

I look at the stars and wonder. How old is the universe? All kinds of estimates have been made and, as far as we can tell, not one is accurate. All we know is that once upon a time or, rather, once before time, Christ called everything into being in a great breath of creativity – waters, land, green growing things, birds and beasts, and finally human creatures – the beginning, the genesis, not in ordinary Earth days; the Bible makes it quite clear that God’s time is different from our time. A thousand years for us is no more than the blink of an eye to God. But in God’s good time the universe came into being, opening up from a tiny flower of nothingness to great clouds of hydrogen gas to swirling galaxies. In God’s good time came solar systems and planets and ultimately this planet on which I stand on this autumn evening as the Earth makes its graceful dance around the sun. It takes one Earth day, one Earth night, to make a full turn, part of the intricate pattern of the universe. And God called it good, very good.

A sky full of God’s children! Each galaxy, each star, each living creature, every particle and subatomic particle of creation, we are all children of the Maker. From a subatomic particle with a life span of a few seconds, to a galaxy with a life span of billions of years, to us human creatures somewhere in the middle in size and age, we are made in God’s image, male and female, and we are, as Christ promised us, God’s children by adoption and grace.

Commenting on the work of Walt
Whitman, Vincent Van Gogh wrote
of the "great starlit vault of heaven,
a something which, after all, one
can only call God and eternity in
its place above the world."
Children of God, made in God’s image. How? Genesis gives no explanations, but we do know instinctively that it is not a physical image. God’s explanation is to send Jesus, the incarnate One, God enfleshed. Don’t try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy. It is love, God’s limitless love enfleshing that love into the form of a human being, Jesus, the Christ, fully human and fully divine.

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?

Power. Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing. Slowly growing, as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose, slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough, and it is time for birth.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years to show us what we ought to be and could be. Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth, wholly human and wholly divine, to show us what it means to be made in God’s image. Jesus, as Paul reminds us, was the firstborn of many brethren.

I stand on the deck of my cottage, looking at the sky full of God’s children, and know that I am one of them.

Reprinted from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.

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