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.