Psalm 8 was set for morning prayer today, so here are two illustrations for it – one old, one new.
There have been interesting things in the night sky.
I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but Jupiter seems brighter every time I look at it (and if you’re not sure where to look, find Orion’s belt, and then look left and slightly up – Jupiter is the really bright one).
And then there’s the International Space Station, which you can track here. The best viewing for us was Christmas Eve, around 6pm, when it would have been fairly easy to convince even my skeptical children that it was St Nicholas’ sleigh they were seeing moving across the night sky. We still have a few more opportunities to see the ISS this month, so do follow the link above and see for yourself and give the astronauts a wave.
We don’t know what the wise men’s star actually was.
Halley’s comet was visible around 12BC, but in those days people were terrified of comets – they were seen as bringers of doom, and would never have been understood as a portent of good news.
It might have been Jupiter and Venus in conjunction, possibly also with a bright star such as Regulus just behind them, all merging together to appear, to the naked eye, as one massive, bright star.
Or, it could have been a star in our neighbouring Andromeda galaxy exploding into a supernova – that would have appeared as a sudden, new bright star int he sky.
Or perhaps God laid on something special, just for those wise men, because he wanted to make sure they knew about the birth of Jesus, and he knew that the stars were where they looked for wisdom and meaning. God has a long and honourable history of not hiding – in fact 0f revealing himself in precisely those ways that will ensure that we can find him if we have a will to do so. Athanasius’ great work ‘Contra Gentiles’ is a long and enthusiastic account of what essentially amounts to a divine ambush – wherever we focus our gaze, that it where God will find a way to become recognisable.
The wonderful thing is that God chooses to do so. He lit the touchpaper for the big bang and set the universe into motion, and yet still cared enough to make sure that when Jesus was born, three random stargazers from a faraway land got to hear about it.
And that’s the whole point with the incarnation, isn’t it? The miracle that God, the creator of everything, would come and be part of his creation. It’s been described as trying to put the whole national grid through one light bulb, and it’s OK if we can’t quite get our head around that, because that’s also the point.
We don’t have to be able to grasp the whole thing – the massive, indescribable, all-consuming power and love of God. Because in Jesus God showed us everything we need to know in a way that we can relate to.
When we look at the night sky we see the tiny pinpricks of light and we know they are giant balls of flaming gas, some of them many times more powerful than our own sun – and we can’t even look on our own sun without damaging our eyes. We look on Jesus and we see God is a way that we can handle – his love is God’s love, but shown to us in a way that lets us look on it, touch it, feel it.
When we look up into the night sky (and it’s a wonderful thing to do in these long nights and dark days) may we see both the majesty of God and his infinite creation and the wonderful way in which he reaches out to meet us where we are.
From Psalm 8:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars that you have set in their place; what are human beings that you even notice them, that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than the angels, and crowned them with glory and honour.