“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are…“
For a moment, imagine being given a ball of string, going to the end of your road and attaching the start of the string to a lamppost. That point marks the “now”. It’s all you know. Then walk down the road, unwinding the string as you go and when you reach the end of the string, attach that to a lamppost too. This new point marks the very beginning of the universe. As you look back along the string you have the entire history of the universe ahead of you.
Now walk all the way back along the string, and consider that each pace is equivalent to a million years or so. Most of this time the universe churns and explodes outward as mass is hurtled and thousands and millions of galaxies smash and settle and form.
But the very last metre of the string brings us to a new starting point: the formation of the earth. Here begins our creation. The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God hovered over the earth and created and formed it.
In this last metre we watch all humanity through an incredible time lapse as we watch civilizations rise and multiply and fall. Languages, tools, knowledge, farming, and the slow inexorable domination of the planet.
This time of advent celebrates the coming of God. And there is something about the advent of God into the story of man that fills me with wonder. God has moulded and shaped time for ages past on a cosmic scale, acted far beyond what we, with our impossibly small perspective, could comprehend. And God has also made us in his image and loved us and desired to be present with us. This time of advent celebrates the coming of God. The wonder of the moment when the Spirit of God exquisitely and microscopically interacted with an egg in the womb of a particular woman, and fertilized it and made a life. The divine and the human in the life of Jesus.
And God has moulded and shaped time for ages past, so that he can be present with us. As prophecies from old that God himself had planted in the minds of men started to be fulfilled, we read in the advent story of a moving star in the heavens giving some astronomers a right run-around. So much so that they pack their bags, mount their camels, grab a bunch of expensive gifts, and follow it over the surface of the earth. It moves ahead of them and stops right above the place where Jesus is, where divinity and humanity have intersected in the birth of a child.
I struggle to comprehend the celestial engineering involved here: this star had to travel, to come close enough to Earth to be visible, to tangibly move in a way that was different to other bodies in sky. It had to be in geostationary orbit above the earth just long enough for the astronomers to know they were in the right place. How far back along that piece of string did God form it and set it in motion so that it would arrive in the skies above the earth at just the right moment of time?
Whatever the answer, God knew it was worth the effort, and had been working it out for a very long time. And this, all for our sake. To be present with us.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.“
When my children were young, I remember teaching each of them that nursery rhyme. I loved taking them to different places and giving them new experiences – whether it was seeing and smelling the steam from a locomotive, building sandcastles on a beach, taking them into a cave to see a stalactite, or putting a water slide in the garden on a summer’s day. These were times when as a parent I wanted to give them a “wow” moment of awe and wonder and discovery.
I’ve realised writing this that I wanted to watch them have the wow moment, and that many of the old home videos I have are of them trying to explain their experiences or enjoying the new moment. I’ve recorded them having the experience, not the experience itself.
For the Christmas star, God knew it was worth the effort, and had set things in motion probably thousands if not hundreds of thousands of earth years before the event. Why bother? For the joy of watching the look on the faces of those he had created talking together and trying to work out what it meant. And then for the thousands and then hundreds of thousands of people who were going to read about it and also stare into space and wonder who loved them so much that all that was worth it.
Wonder for me is an important fingerprint in our lives – it points us to God not just in the Christmas story, but in the Bible, the world and the universe we live in. It also lets us all be little kids again – enjoying a moment.