The First Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Luke 21:25-36
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
In July 1969, the first manned spacecraft landed on the moon. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong took the first human steps on the moon while millions the world over watched glued to their televisions.
Then, on July 20, the day they walked on the moon, there was the first phone call between earth and the moon. Then President Richard Nixon addressed the astronauts:
Hello, Neil and Buzz. I’m talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House, and this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House. I just can’t tell you how proud we all are of what you have done. For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives. And for people all over the world, I am sure that they, too, join with Americans in recognizing what an immense feat this is. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth. For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one; one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.
It was definitely a historic moment for humanity around the world. An unforgettable experience filled with hope and promise.
As Nixon said it, “the heavens have become a part of man’s world.” Exploration into space has helped humanity to see the place of the Earth in the wider whole of the cosmos, and it has helped us to see the Earth as a whole. The picture of the Earth as a blue marble, taken by the Apollo 17 crew on December 7, 1972, is considered one of the most iconic, and among the most widely distributed images in human history. [Wikipedia, The Blue Marble] This picture gave the human race an image of its home – Earth. Space exploration has given us an understanding of the Earth as barely a speck of dust in vast expanding universe. And it has also given us an understanding of the precious uniqueness of our planetary home.
In the understanding of our Christian tradition, the Earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars, all are seen as part of the creative expression of God. We think of God as infinite mystery, so we are not surprised at the vast expanses of space. And we understand that to God, all of creation is one living, pulsing, dynamic whole. There are many, many references in the Bible to creation, the land, sea, animals, plants, and planets all fulfilling the will of the creator. Air, sun, comets, and nebulae, all play the part they are intended to play in the divine creative design. All of nature and all of the cosmos is seen as God’s self expression. In other traditions and religions, there are myths about the creation of humanity, but the world itself is already assumed. In the Judeo Christian concept of creation, humans are just one small part of a larger story of Divinity revealed in all of reality. It is a cosmic vision from the beginning.
We see this understanding reflected in the scripture we heard this morning. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. . . the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” [Luke 21:25-26] The power of God is not limited to humanity and human history. God’s power extends to the planets and stars, as well as all of Earth and creation. We are given a universal vision of God’s power and intentions. Ours is a cosmic God.
It is also clear in our tradition that the Divine intention for all of the vastness of the cosmos is peace. It has all been created as an evolving whole which supports life in untold forms – past, present, and future yet to be determined. Our faith is founded on a vision of peace that is life-affirming and universal.
This Advent season, we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, one in whom we see God breaking into human history with peace. And we remember that the peace that is expressed through Jesus is a universal peace. It is not just peace for one group, or one nation, or one culture, or one geographic area. Divine peace, the peace revealed in Jesus, is universal peace: For all people. For all cultures. For all times. For all lands and seas, planets and stars. In Jesus we see peace for the cosmos.
This is an insight that we want to remember as we think about extending peace in our world. There are so many areas wracked by violence and the absence of peace – from our individual souls and our psyches, to our city blocks, to our borders, to conflict and violence between groups and nations. Bombs, drones, guns, and missiles destroy daily. Where is peace? Where is there hope for peace? As we look at so many conflicts we see that this person, this group, this country, this government, this ruler, this religious expression, is trying to protect itself and extend its power. We want security for ourselves. The goal is not really peace, but self interest, self promotion, or self protection, because peace is for everyone or no one.
When we embrace the Christian view of cosmic peace, we look at paths to peace that extend peace to everyone, to all lands, all seas, all creation, the universe known and still unknown. When we adopt that cosmic perspective which we see again and again in our scriptures, then we are pursuing peace that means security for all and not just, temporarily, for some. Our faith teaches us to work for peace in ourselves and in specific situations from a universal perspective so that just and lasting resolution can emerge.
We can think, for example, about problems in a relationship. In this holiday season, these kinds of issues can become more pronounced. Maybe there is stress in one of your primary relationships. Maybe instead of thinking about what you want and what you think the other person wants, you can try to see things from a broader perspective. What is best for both of you? For the others in your family? What will make a constructive impression on children or young people in the family? What will be in the best interests of everyone in the long term? Maybe you can overcome a smaller issue when together you see there is a greater goal that is good for others that you both care about.
If we only look at certain specific interests in a particular situation without a broader framework, we may very well just be creating another problem. But when we work together to resolve conflicts whether it be in an interpersonal situation, in a work setting, in an ideological conflict, in international disputes, or in dealing with extremists, we want to keep in mind the universal perspective of our faith with the intention of peace for all of creation, the universe, and throughout the cosmos. That kind of all encompassing vision can help us to find specific ways to pursue peace that are truly secure and lasting.
Now, I must admit that for much of my life I was not very interested in space exploration, NASA, or even entertainment involving space. I felt that the energy put into space exploration was taking needed resources away from solving problems here on earth. I mean, was it really necessary to spend all that money so that we could drink Tang, eat dry ice cream, and close our shoes with Velcro? These are just some of the technological ripples of the space program. I saw space exploration as a sign of giving up on Earth and looking to other venues for pursing life. To me it represented having failed here on this planet and I could not accept that. But I married someone who minored in astronomy in college, who used to go out and observe the stars and the constellations every night when we lived in the country and it was actually dark enough to see the stars. Someone who knows all about the planets, space, and the space program, and who even, penny pincher that he is, gave money on a regular basis to the Space Studies Institute at Princeton to work on colonizing space. Now my spouse is a physics teacher. So, through the years, my heart has softened toward space. I have even come to take an interest in new discoveries and developments. But mostly I have been moved by the influence that space exploration and knowledge of the universe can have on our spirits, on our self understanding, on our grasp of our place in the scheme of things, and on our perspectives of life on Earth, our little blue marble home.
Images from space have helped to increase the understanding of global warming. They have given us other scientific insights and understandings. They have helped us to overcome a sense of individual and cultural alienation between humans because we know that we are all together on this tiny planet and there’s no where else just like this.
Space exploration also has the power to enhance our vision and pursuit of peace. While different countries may not be able to work together to solve problems on Earth, we seem to be more amenable to cooperating internationally when it comes to space and space exploration. The International Space Station is one promising example of this. Maybe through these experiences we can learn to work better together here on Earth as well.
In the 2014 hard science fiction movie, Interstellar, a ship is sent out into space to go through a worm hole and follow up on earlier initiatives to find a planet with an environment that can sustain human life. In the course of the journey, the main pilot, Cooper, is having a conversation with the primary scientist, Dr. Brandt, about space.
Dr. Brandt comments, “That’s what I love. Out there we face great odds, death, but, not evil.”
Cooper replies, “You don’t think nature can be evil?”
Brandt says, “No. Formidable. Frightening, but no, not evil. . .”
Cooper goes on to ask, “There’s just what we take with us, then?”
“Yeah,” Brandt responds.
Maybe the only evil in the universe is the evil that emerges from the human heart. No evil in space. No evil in creation. No evil in the universe or the cosmos. So maybe all this exploration of interstellar space can teach us to overcome the evil only we are capable of and to live in peace. In this season we prepare for the coming of Jesus, a figure portrayed in cosmic proportions: Jesus, a Palestinian Jew who has become associated with the cosmic Christ figure, an embodiment of the divine love that is at the heart of the universe. With no evil. A truly stellar figure with a universal message proclaiming peace – on Earth, all the Earth, not just some of the Earth, as well as the entire cosmos.
This season we’ll remember the story of the magi, the wise ones, following a star in search of Jesus. Maybe the stars will help to lead us to peace, in all of our hearts and homes; the peace that is intended for the world, the peace that has been given to creation in Jesus Christ. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.