New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
Christmas Eve 2013
|Earthrise from the Apollo 8 mission|
December 24, 1968
Keep surprising us God.
Keep coming in ways and people
we don’t expect.
“In the beginning was the Word”. And what was that Word? The word logos, Greek for ‘word’, can also be translated as message, theory, motive, reason, wisdom, and probably the best one of all—story. In the beginning there was a message, a theory, a motive or reason, there was wisdom, there was a story, and this story was with God, and the story was God. All things came into being through this story. Without this story not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4through this story was life, and the life was the light of all people.[i]
In order to accomplish this story, to write this story, to have this story in the flesh, certain ingredients were necessary. One of them was gravity, a necessity for not only life on earth but for the existence of this universe. I’ve been reading Col. Christopher Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. One of the characters in the Christmas story is a star, and I thought it would be interesting to read about someone whose job it is to live amongst the stars and to explore space.
It was also 45 years ago tonight that the Apollo 8 crew broadcast greetings from their orbit around the moon, the first ever. As the crew took turns reading from the first chapter of Genesis, there were perhaps some who remembered Yuri Gagarin’s infamous statement that he didn’t see any God in space.
It’s true, there’s not a lot of room for God or faith in the unknown in space. Chris Hadfield writes of the numerous simulations and multiple years’ worth of training that he went through before he would go into space. There’s no room for mistakes in zero gravity and zero atmosphere outside a wall that’s only 10 cm thick. In space, prayer just might be the last refuge of an astronaut.
There’s not a lot of room for the Holy Spirit in space: that unpredictable dance between us and God. There’s not a lot of room for grace, if most mistakes are accounted for before even leaving Earth’s gravity. The incarnation, God’s story in human flesh, needs gravity, that force which also brings stars into being.
Almost all of us will never be in space. All of what we do and feel and experience is here on Earth. We are grounded. Most of what we do and feel and experience is not life or death, like it is in space. We don’t need to control the human factor not nearly as much, try as we might most days. We need to leave room, indeed, a wide spaciousness for the Holy Spirit. There is not only room but a great need for grace and forgiveness, because we can’t foresee or simulate all the mistakes we might make from now until we leave this Earth.
But in space the view is one of wonder and awe at the expansiveness of God’s creation that includes tiny, insignificant, precious, and rare little us.[ii] Each of us is a story enfleshed within a cosmic story of grace and love, justice and peace. Each of us is made of the same stuff as stars, and through our lives light can shine. And tonight we celebrate the One who came to show us the way.
The incarnation is earthy, with a gravitational pull that pries us off of ourselves and puts the outcast, the poor, and the forgotten at the center of the universe. Holy Jesus, may the force of love draw us to your lowly birth, to your life lived for others, to your cross, to your story of justice and peace for all creation. Amen.