When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you set in place—what is humanity that you should be mindful of us? Who are we that you should care for us?
Psalm 8:3-4 (The Inclusive Bible)
Scientists tell us that some 14 billion years ago, a tightly packed ball of matter, fueled by the energy collected by so many particles in such tight quarters, exploded firing the earliest piece of this existence far and wide forming what we would later call the universe. It was primarily space dust that eventually came together to form galaxies and moons, comets and supernovas, and our little part of the universe, earth. And while we might theorize about those earliest beginnings, while we might be able to say with some veracity what happened in those moment immediately following inception, we are still wholly unable to comprehend from whence all this matter arose and what exactly set it off, ablaze with energy to fill the void that it continues to grow into today. That moment, the period where existence cross the chasm between not-time and time remains for us, forever locked away in a vault into which it is difficult to see how we could ever enter.
And the time, 14 billion years, is literally impossible to grasp with our human minds, our own lifespans so small a piece of the larger timeframe that to express it is in a percentage would take 7 zeros after the decimal point. In our lived we can remember large sections of the previous year, we can call up moments in time from the previous five years or so, and we can, if we really try recall, however fuzzily, episodes from the mundane to the life-altering. But to draw up the expanse of our lifetimes becomes illusive except perhaps in the deepest recesses of our subconscious. The amount of time human beings have occupied in the larger history is also less than a single percent. And if we cast our eyes forward, most estimates are that the sun has roughly another 100 billion years that it can burn and some make the argument that even that is too conservative a number making the time that we have traversed since the big bang only a sliver of the total amount of life found in the universe. And so we are caught, the moment of now trapped in between a bottomless void too dark to even try to look into it and thrust into an unknown future with an even darker void into which we move with each new moment. In this place between “already passed” and “not yet” we become aware of our precarious relationship with time.
In a similar manner, we find ourselves in a tiny corner of the universe. Like my old theology professor, Doug Ottati was fond of saying, “we live on a third-rate planet revolving around a third-rate star in a remote part of the Milky Way galaxy.” The milky way, a galaxy that creates a white hue across a portion of the night sky, is one of billions of galaxies that populate the universe. The universe is both so immense and expanding so rapidly that the best that scientists can do is to use their knowledge to create theories about how big the universe really is and how small a percentage of it we both occupy and have even explored. We cannot begin to wrap our minds around the sheer enormity of it all and to even try makes our individual and collective heads spin. Almost all of it will never be explored by human life and certainly not in any of our lifetimes. But everything we do know suggests we are but a mere speck on a tiny planet in a universe with billions of galaxies and an incalculable number of planets.
In 1990, the Voyager 1 space probe snapped a picture of the earth from 3.7 billion miles away showing the earth to be but a small speck in the midst of other small specks, it’s pale blue light the refraction of the suns rays. A single pixel against the immense backdrop of darkness and emptiness. And when we start to ponder this reality the sheer enormity of it all has the potential to make our little speck of dust in a cosmic dust storm feel cold, empty, and unfeeling.
And yet it is that on this nondescript planet, in a universe the size of which we can’t even imagine, in a frame of time that is so small a portion of the time allotted to the universe that everyone we know and everything we love has existed. Everything that brings our lives meaning has happened here. All the wars and blood spilled over land and conquest. All the moments of great and colossal change, be it in Selma, Alabama, Berlin, Germany, or Johannesburg, South Africa, that has altered the way in which we think about one another and act towards one another has happened here. Every birthday of a loved one and every union of loving couples and every funeral in which we say good bye to those most beloved in our lives has taken place on this singular pale blue dot. Every atrocity in which we have hurt and killed in the quest for more stuff and every hope we have for a more peaceful tomorrow are all contained in this place.
And at a nondescript moment in time, at a moment that we can’t be sure who was even present, my tradition believes that the child of God slipped into this broken and beautiful world. Slipped into a world of war and atrocity, of conquer and conquest, of love and hate. Slipped into a world of tyrants and kings, of struggle and oppression, of occupation and misery. Slipped into a world in which mothers wrap babies in swaddling clothes because too often they couldn’t afford actual clothes for their babies, in which shepherds gather watching their sheep at night huddled closely together to fight off the chill in the air, slipped into a world where magi from the east followed a star to the place where the baby slept, slipped into a world where the cattle lowed and he woke up, slipped into a world in desperate need to know that someone, anyone still gave a damn. Slipped into the world and brought hope.
This Advent journey upon which many in the Christian tradition find ourselves once again, asks us all to prepare to relive that moment, asks us all to prepare for God to enter into creation again, asks us all to prepare for hope. But this journey cannot be a long road to a one-time episode in the midst of the otherwise mundane living of life in which Jesus appears one moment and the next we return to our daily lives, to our daily existence. It cannot be that we note his appearance with a single day on our calendars alongside other events as we traverse through our year. There are simply too many people in our midst who hurt and struggle. Too many wars still plaguing our world, too many swords needed for plowshares and spears needed for pruning hooks. Too many seeking to be on the mountain of God. With this season comes hope, but with hope comes responsibility to carry that hope into the streets, into the country, into the world. To proclaim from every mountaintop the year of God’s favor for the world. We might once again have hope but it can never be a cheap hope, never be a solely a Christmas card or carol. It must be a hope that changes the world in which we live. Again.