I have always been captivated by the sky and space. When I was a kid, I pored over a Golden Nature Book simply entitled Stars, with a picture of Saturn on the cover, a comet whizzing overhead. When I was 12, I requested a telescope for Christmas. It was a Sears-Roebuck cheapie, but I got my first close-up of some of the planets and I was thrilled. I even thought of becoming an astronomer until I learned you had to do math. Some people have “math anxiety.” I’ve always had full-blown math panic.
But I still love reading about the stars and planets. So you can imagine my excitement whenever there is breaking astronomical news…such as the report last year, just in time for the holidays, that the Hubble Telescope spotted a giant angel in the sky. At least, that’s what it looked like from earth: two blue wings stretching across the heavens with an hourglass-shaped body. In reality, the angel is interstellar gas flung out from the birth of a star about 2000 light years from planet Earth. That means about the time that Christ was being born, so was this angel-shaped star in a distant corner of the Milky Way galaxy.
Thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah did not have the advantage of telescopes and infrared images. He simply looked up with his naked eye and invited his readers to look up, too. The stars didn’t awe him as much as the Star Maker:
“‘To whom can you compare me Whom do I resemble?'” says the Holy One. Look up at the sky! Who created all these heavenly lights? He is the one who leads out their ranks; he calls them all by name. Because of his absolute power and awesome strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26-27 NET Bible).
We are in the season of Epiphany, a time to focus on the God’s awesome revelations. Epiphany comes from a Greek word that literally means a “shining forth.” The Babe who was once laid in a manger has now, by the power of his resurrection and the glory of his ascension, revealed himself to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Epiphany is a reminder to think big, to lift our eyes from shallow concerns and meditate anew on the wonders of God. However, some Christians suffer from “Epiphany Deficiency.” There’s a painting that pictures a busy sidewalk in the city. Pedestrians are scurrying by one another, absorbed in their own concerns, frowning, scowling, their eyes glued to the ground. In the background, a sign on a church door says, “LOOK UP.”
The cure for an Epiphany Deficiency is to look up—literally and spiritually. When we consider the stars, we, like Isaiah, begin to revere the One who made them all. A couple of years ago, astronomers announced that the universe contains three times more stars than previously thought. That’s roughly 30 sextillion stars—a 30 followed by 24 zeroes.
Actually, we don’t have to look any farther than our own world to be awed and amazed. Earth is a heavy globe of rock and metal that is nevertheless precisely balanced and turns easily on its axis, ripping through space at nearly 20 miles per second. Our planet is slanted at exactly 23.45 degrees. A few degrees more or less, and our world would either become a giant freezer or flaming barbecue. Our placement in the solar system seems to be no accident, either. At 93 million miles from the sun, we enjoy a “Goldilocks distance,” neither too hot nor too cold—just right! Sir James Jeans, a British astrophysicist who was knighted for his accomplishments, once said, “The universe appears to have been designed by a Pure Mathematician.”
God is BIG! Bigger than us, bigger than the cosmos, bigger than anything anyone could imagine! He is constantly placing signs in the skies (and many other places, too), reminding us how truly magnificent he is. Yet so often we slip into an Epiphany Deficiency. We obsess about earthly matters. We keep our feet planted on familiar ground instead of mounting up with the wings of eagles. We forget about our Heavenly Father and His infinite power, His exalted ways and His amazing grace—or we try to tame God, box Him in and mold Him into our own earthbound image.
After the group read the passage, the pastor offered scholarly commentary and then asked, “So what does this story mean to us?”
A man in the class replied, “It means that my family and I are going to look for another church.”
The pastor was startled. “What? Why?”
The man explained that when he studied the God of the Bible, he felt like he was near the real God – not the “dignified, businesslike, Rotary Club God we chatter about here on Sunday mornings.” The God of Abraham, the man went on, was a deity who could blow a man to bits, give and then take a child, ask for everything from a person, and still demand more.
“I want to know that God,” the man concluded.
Manning ends the story with these words: “The child of God knows that the graced life calls him or her to live on a cold and windy mountain, not on the flattened plain of reasonable, middle-of-the-road religion.”
A 1992 editorial in The United Methodist Reporter summarizes our human condition: “Mired in shriveled visions and petty ambitions, discouraged by world events and anemic economic conditions, too many of us exhibit spiritual shrinkage. We dream little dreams, hope little hopes and, consequently, live little lives.”
But there’s good news: in this season of revelation, astronomers discover a giant angel in the heavens! New things, too, are happening all over the globe: explosive church growth in China, Africa and India; atheist scientists and philosophers acknowledging the existence of God; increased interest in prayer and spiritual disciplines. The Holy Spirit is sweeping across the earth, and we have been invited to be swept up with Him.
Church, let’s get rid of Epiphany Deficiency! We do that by dreaming big, praying big, serving big, giving big and forgiving big. For a Christian, now and always is the time to do big things, relying on a God who is bigger than our past mistakes, bigger than our present fears, bigger than any future calamity. So look up. Gaze at the stars. And remember, the One who made the universe is still creating…both “out there” and in the human heart.