This past week, I was thinking about the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, as I also began sorting some Christmas decorations, and came across a Star of Bethlehem.

The “Star of Bethlehem,” or the “Christmas Star,” appears only in the Gospel of  Matthew (composed 80 – 90 CE). There we read that “Wise Men from the East” were inspired by the star to travel to Jerusalem. The star then led them to Jesus’ Bethlehem birthplace, where they worshiped him and gave him gifts. Most contemporary biblical scholars do not understand the story as an historical event but an imaginative way to demonstrate the uniquely all-encompassing significance of Jesus’ birth as Immanuel — “God with us.”

Moving toward the third Sunday of Advent 2022, the Star of Bethlehem narrative leads me to a contemporary reflection about God, our Cosmos, and our place in the Cosmos.

Astronomy and the physical sciences are transforming our picture of the Cosmos. Titan, Saturn’s moon, for example, is a prime target in the hunt for extraterrestrial life. I read this week that NASA plans to put a flying robot there in 2026 as part of its newest planetary scientific mission.

Our Cosmos is fascinating. There may be tens of billions, perhaps even a hundred billion, solar systems just in our own galaxy. AND astronomers now estimate that there are at least one hundred billion galaxies in our observable universe. Amazing. One hundred billion galaxies. And our universe is still expanding and changing at an accelerated rate.  

Reflecting on the age and size of created reality, our image and conception of God takes on new forms as well. Even more fascinating and amazing. A good friend is completing a book in which he calls God “Creator.” I like that. Our universe is expanding. Our sense of God as well.

Do we have a spirituality for Creator of the expanding cosmos? Are the old theistic anthropomorphisms adequate for today’s believers? Years ago I read that Albert Einstein had started asking these kinds of questions. He wrote about “A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity.” He added: “and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.” 

And…the First Epistle of John (written in Ephesus between 95 and 110 CE) reminds us: “We have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:16)

I suggest a new cosmic consciousness demands a more encompassing Earthly  engagement as well. How do we implement, down the street and around the globe, the Christian values of love, mercy, forgiveness, justice, and concern for the poor? 

There are new challenges for all of the world’s religions. New challenges for world governments as well. 

Who is master of our planet Earth? Can we continue, for instance, to just discuss but really ignore climate change? Can we just sit back and wait until the seas rise? The current best estimates predict that the average sea level rise for the contiguous United States could be 7.2 feet by 2100 and 13 feet by 2150.

What will it mean in 80 years to take care and responsibility for people and their lives, when millions of people are displaced by rising waters? What does it mean to take care and responsibility for people and their lives today? Is one race naturally superior to another? Can one race, or one country, or one religion ignore and/or denigrate the rest? 

In my now more than seven decades being a student and a teacher, I have come to realize that a good teacher is not necessarily the answer person, but the one who raises questions and helps students think and act within a broader and deeper horizon. Now I realize, more than ever, that all of us on planet Earth are called and challenged to be students and teachers for each other. We are one human reality and one human family. We either learn to live together or perish together. 

Cosmic consciousness? I believe God is Creator of everything and calls for responsible action on behalf of all human beings, together as a group and individually as members of the species we call human. Yes, today we also see human beings caught up in negative situations of ignorance, sin, suffering, and death. We are members of a single humanity. Our human solidarity should prohibit anyone from conceiving or hoping for a salvation that would leave others behind. Is it conceivable that Creator would stress love for some and not for the others? Is Creator’s truth up for grabs in a society of alternative truths. 

The solidarity of humankind is central to an authentic Christian vision. 

Each year we see ever more clearly that our planet Earth is like a grain of sand in an immense Cosmos. But, Earthly engagement is our calling, our mission, and our urgent responsibility today. 

Our churches, schools, colleges, voluntary organizations of all types, and cultural groups constitute the primary places where we should be actively engaged. Protests are often good and appropriate. Just by themselves, however, they are not enough. We need structural and institutional change. Christians, properly understood, must be active social-change agents.  

The Jesus message – the Good News — challenges everyone. We urgently need to implement a liberation theology for the poor and politically oppressed; a feminist theology, that confronts and disables all androcentric forms of patriarchal misogyny, denigration, and abuse; a queer theology, that values and sustains people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity; and an inter-religion theology, that values all the great religious traditions and promotes dialogue and collaboration…

Then we can truly live the Good News and celebrate Emmanuel: God-with-us.

Jack

15 thoughts on “Cosmic Consciousness and the Star of Bethlehem

  1. Excellent reflection! Thank you for being the constant and superlative teacher, calling on our better angels, inspiring and guiding us to do better!

  2. You win the World Cup of Inclusion for this commentary and it inspires me to do as much as I can in my own life to include rather than exclude! Thanks.

  3. Jack,
    Have you considered that the Big Bang is not over and that you and I are living in an exploding, constantly-changing Universe? Or, perhaps, Multiverse?

  4. Dear Jack,

    Isn’t it humbling that in such a vast and incomprehensible universe the Creator has time or interest in this puny particle called Earth and, even more so, loves each of us miniscule pieces of humanity with such passion and attention! And it is personal!! I love that you invoke us to each make our inconsequential piece of time and turf the best that it and we can be. Make a difference as only we can in the way that is unique to us. Talk about a mission to change the world!! “Love one another as I have loved you!” No small task, but one that is within each one of us if we look to our Creator!!

    Thanks again, Jack, for a beautiful focus in this holy time of year.

    Peace,
    Frank

  5. Excellent. Many thanks. You would like this book very much: https://www.earth4all.life/book It’s about a “practical” plan to reverse this global warming. The first step – eliminate poverty. If we do not, those “developing” nations will not let us do much else. AND . . even more amazing – it is very, very doable.

    Thanks. You do well.

  6. Yes indeed, our turf is implicate and consequential to change minds and raise the Spirit, as Frank Skeltis also suggests. Dr. Jack, your reflection mirrors whatthe author Marilyn Robinson recently wrote. The timing is miraculous. I hope it’s OK to quote her, in the light of your encouraging words.

    “A great, holy potency behind creation … conditions existence itself, the {Creator} God in whom we live and move and have our being, in the words of the pagan poet quoted by Paul in Athens…. This {C}reator without history or lineage, outside time, freely and sufficiently, by His effortless will, gave us the world we know… all existence can be thought of as willed into being from moment to moment… of one fabric with the initial singularity from which all that we know and don’t know, all we will ever know and never know, has emerged… Let there be—and there is. Such efficaciousness is one definition of God.”

    Then Ms. Robinson pens what I regard as a prayer, special for all at this time of year when many recall the grace of the Incarnation:

    “Let hands be shaped by every use they have been put to, and let life be etched into them like something tenderly remembered… full of wonder at this utterly lucid, utterly embracing awareness: ‘Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.’” 

    This, to me, is a credal statement of faith– the wide-open trust in Sapiens that Creator has in us, here in the fleshy-now, such that Incarnation, kenosis, is possible and happening still. We know that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is, at this redhot moment, sending back information of what it observes, for us to translate and judge how we should act as Sapiens, possibly alone in the multiverse, for the “structural and institutional change” for which you so often cry out, here on this speck called Earth.  With this in mind, I assume, Ms Robinson says:
    “We live at the Earth’s scale, which makes us forget what a mote it is by the standards even of its own galaxy. Evening and morning, seedtime and harvest, it shapes time for us, and the days and the years can seem long enough, though in the life of the universe they are nothing. We should feel awe at the power of this little world to somehow remake time and scale so that we can wander and work and learn and finally grow old, and feel that the dimensions of our lives have been wide indeed.”

    You, Dr. Jack, are an awesome aperture for us all. And then, with reference to echoes of Teilhard, Ms. Robinson speaks of the implicate struggle, mentioned at Genesis 3:15, that attends the ‘imago Dei,’ of knowledge opening up within Sapiens:

    “This planet, and our species, may serve as the consciousness of the universe, its sole aperture of awareness of itself.”

    Thank you, Dr. Jack, for your aperspectival thinking, for widening our consciousness of what is, “down the street and across the globe” and beyond.

    1. Thank you Dan!
      This quote is etched in my mind and perspective: ““Let hands be shaped by every use they have been put to, and let life be etched into them like something tenderly remembered… full of wonder at this utterly lucid, utterly embracing awareness: ‘Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.’”

      Peace my friend!
      Jack

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