“We might understand at some level that those tiny points of light in the night sky are similar to our sun, made of atoms identical to those in our bodies, and that the cavern of outer space extends from our galaxy of stars to other galaxies of stars, to distances that would take light billions of years to traverse. We might understand these discoveries in intellectual terms, but they are baffling abstractions, even disturbing, like the notion that each of us once was the size of a dot, without mind or thought. Science has vastly expanded the scale of our cosmos, but our emotional reality is still limited by what we can touch with our bodies in the time span of our lives.”
-Alan Lightman, Our Place in the Universe | Harper’s Magazine.
When I think about the Incarnation, the mystery toward which the season of Advent is leading us, I most often think of swimming in the lake at Interlochen arts camp in Michigan the summer after my junior year in college, one night around midnight.
The night sky was pitch-black, just like the water. I couldn’t tell where the warm water ended and the warm night air began. As I floated on my back in that womblike state, the Milky Way arched overhead from one end of the sky to the other.
All of that vast immensity is God’s creation. All of that creative power, filling “distances that would take light billions of years to traverse,” came to dwell in a child born to Mary. That child’s life and example transformed the people around him and continues to influence the world. That creative power could not be contained by death.
Lightman writes in this month’s Harper’s Magazine that “our emotional reality is still limited to what we can touch with our bodies in the time span of our lives.”
That’s why I think the Incarnation matters so much. That’s why many Christians (especially Anglicans) bow at the words “he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man” in the Nicene Creed. We bow at the billions of burning stars contained in 11 short words.
“No one has ever seen God,” John writes in the prologue to his Gospel. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).
I hope that as you look on the baby in the manger this Christmas, your eyes will fill with stars and your heart with gratitude for God’s love, which “reaches to the heavens.”