Summit Presbyterian Church
December 24, 2009
Luke 2: 1-20
When Scientists Speak and Angels Sing
When Luke wrote that Augustus ordered "all the world" to be registered, the world he knew was the Roman Empire and a bit beyond - not the world we know, the world we've seen from space. Later, when Luke traces the family tree of Jesus back to Adam he counts 75 generations – hardly the 200 thousand years or so that humans have been around, depending on when you start counting in the complicated history of our evolution. We see the world and ourselves differently than Luke, because of the stories that scientists tell us. The stories of the creation of the earth four and a half billion years ago -- with ice ages and dinosaurs, and practically no life on it at all for its first 2 billion years. Scientists tell us that if we imagine the lifespan of earth from it's beginning until now as a 24 hour day, mammals appeared twenty minutes ago -- and humans have been around for about 30 seconds. Astronomers tell us that our solar system is only one of many in the galaxy of the milky way, which is only one galaxy among billions: and if we imagine the milky way as the size of the United States, our solar system is the size of a quarter (NASA website). These stories are fantastic, stranger than fiction, unbelievable: but true. Not necessarily in all their details: scientists will be the first to say our understanding of the universe is constantly changing. Not every scientist is right, or even honest: they're human. And we know science can be used for good or evil. But the scientific community has proven itself trustworthy in matters of science. We should listen to them.
But it's hard. It's hard because what they tell us is mind-boggling: the math alone is staggering. It's hard because sometimes they tell us things we don't want to hear. They tell us that not only our bodies are fragile and vulnerable – which we know - but human life itself is fragile: that if we want human beings and other living creatures to continue on this earth we'll need to change our ways now. And it's hard because the more we learn about the height and the depth and the length of the universe, the smaller we know ourselves to be. We wonder: our lives and our loves, our beliefs, those things we hold most dear: what do they matter in a universe with billions of galaxies, when we’re only a dot on a quarter in a galaxy the size of the United States? What do our commitments mean when all great civilizations have risen and fallen within the last 30 seconds of the earth's 24 hour lifespan? When we ponder, in our hearts, what scientists tell us, the knowledge is too wonder-ful for us: unsettling, disturbing. So most of us become science deniers, in fact if not theory. We enjoy the benefits of science and technology, while closing our ears to what scientists tell us about the earth and the stars and all that lies beyond. And sometimes, as Christians, we use our stories - of Adam and Eve, of Jesus, of the end times - to argue against the scientific ones.
But there's no need. For this is what the Christmas story says, and what we proclaim the year round: that the creator of those billions of galaxies came to dwell on this earth with us. During the reign of Augustus, in an Empire long gone. As an infant, with no protective or magical powers. To an unremarkable family: Mary's family tree was not worth mentioning. In a time like our own, full of frightened politicians: they would eventually kill Jesus. Our Christian story also says that angels - historically unverifiable, scientifically unprovable angels - came to shepherds, shepherds living in the fields with nothing between them and the vast night sky - to tell them the news. The news that born this day is a savior, Christ the Lord; a savior for us, we who spin on this tiny planet in this huge universe. The angels told them that God wills peace on this earth, no matter how many other planets and stars and galaxies God has: and that God favors us, all people, no matter how brief our time on earth. The angels told the shepherds and they tell us that the creator of the universe comes to us in love.
Now THAT is mind-boggling. And if we can receive this good news, if we can hear the song of the angels, then perhaps we can find the heart to love God back, and to care for each other and all creation as God loves us. Perhaps we can find the courage to listen to what the scientists are telling us. Perhaps we can find the will and way to peace on earth: so that one day the whole world may give back the song which now the angels sing.