There was once a time — though we rarely remember it now — when most scientists envisioned a universe in which Earth lay at the very center. Not until the sixteenth century, when Nicolaus Copernicus challenged this geocentric model — and Johannes Kepler further explored and propounded a heliocentric view — did scientists begin to accept the idea that not only was Earth part of a system that actually revolved around the Sun, but this “solar system” was one of an uncountable number of galaxies in an immeasurably vast universe. Earth was, in fact, comparatively tiny…and, in a cosmic sense, insignificant.
Reading Psalm 8, one senses that David, writing thousands of years ago, recognized this apparent insignificance:
As I flash forward several thousand years to an era of satellites and space shuttles and the Hubble Telescope, all of which allow us glimpses of the breathtakingly beautiful universe out there, I find myself wondering the same thing.
If size indicated importance, we would be right to consider ourselves, along with our earthly home, inconsequential. Our planet is not the biggest, and we have only one moon. We don’t even live in the center of our own galaxy, let alone the universe.
God, who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together, is mindful of the fragile, temporal beings who tread the surface of this little planet, dancing behind Mercury and Venus around a sun thousands of times bigger than itself. So much so, in fact, that some two thousand years ago, while innumerable stars, moons, and planets whirled in the heavens, God Himself quietly visited our humble, tiny home…in the humblest, tiniest form possible.
“God, who knows no before or after, entered time and space,” writes Philip Yancey. “God, who knows no boundaries, took on the shocking confines of a baby’s skin, the ominous restraints of mortality…Could it be true, this Bethlehem story of a Creator descending to be born on one small planet? If so, it is a story like no other. Never again need we wonder whether what happens on this dirty little tennis ball of a planet matters to the rest of the universe.”
Astronomers are continually learning more about the cosmos, and their discoveries teach us just how immense –and how stunningly beautiful — space truly is. As we contemplate it, we can let ourselves feel dwarfed by the vastness of it all…or we can ponder anew just how significant we must be in the eyes of our Creator. James Lovell, Command Module Pilot on the Apollo 8 Space Mission in 1968, touched on the nature of this significance when he reflected on viewing Earth from orbit around the Moon:
It was just another body, really, about four times bigger than the moon. But it held all the hope and all the life and all the things that the crew of the Apollo 8 knew and loved. It was the most beautiful thing there was to see in all the heavens.
It doesn’t matter that Earth is not the physical center of the universe. What matters is that God, who spoke into being galaxies and oceans, who created beauty and gave us hearts and minds to perceive it, loves us so much that, some two thousand years ago, He showed how highly He valued us…by clothing Himself in human flesh and walking the surface of this little planet along with us.
Immanuel…God with us.
As we celebrate the Incarnation, may we discover fresh awe in contemplating that tumbledown stable in which Heaven and Earth met. May we, with David, marvel at the glorious truth that He does care for us. And when we look at the stars, may we realize, not how small we are, but how big God is…and sing for joy at the wondrous mystery of it all.