The birth of Christ has always been associated with the heavens.
In the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel appears to Zachariah and then to Mary, to announce a miraculous birth. Later, a host of angels appears to shepherds abiding in the fields, announcing the birth of the Messiah.
In the Gospel of Matthew, an angel twice appears to Joseph in his sleep. Then the wise men are guided by a star, bringing them to Bethlehem.
These heavenly images have been the staple of Christmas scenes for ages. They appeal to both our senses and our emotions as we celebrate the birth of our saviour and king.
One wonders what heavenly images might be used in a more scientific and secular age to describe the long-awaited birth of a messiah.
I recently saw a picture of our galaxy. In the infinite swirl of stars, a small area was circled — infinitesimally small, it seemed. The caption noted that this is the area of our galaxy that we can see with the naked eye on any night.
With the aid of the Hubble telescope, however, we can peer much farther into the universe. The resultant images are incredible, the vastness of the universe unbelievable. While our own galaxy has billions of stars, of which we can see only a fraction, the Hubble telescope has discovered billions more galaxies — and each one contains billions of stars.
We are unable to count that high, or even to imagine it.
While science is not able to explain the mysteries of faith — such as the Nativity of Jesus — it has enabled us to grow in wonder and admiration of things unseen and unimagined by our ancestors.
To return to that little blog circled in our galaxy, it is amazing to think that, in the vastness of space, it is in that small circle that God chose to reveal the fullness of his love and grace. It is here he chose to send his Son.
We marvel at how scientists can pinpoint a landing on the moon or even an asteroid. But 2,000 years ago God made a pinpoint landing among us, in the Holy Land. Jesus walked on this earth. Later, the Bible describes him ascending into heaven, into the vastness of space, hidden by a cloud.
The heavens form a magnificent backdrop for the Christmas story. The infinite vault of the sky engages our imagination as nothing else can. As we look heavenward on a starry night this Christmas, we have more reason than ever to be amazed at the mystery we are celebrating.