This Christmas day we can look to the manger to discover the depths of God's love. I would suggest, however, that before looking down you look up. That is what David did. The shepherd-king with an astronomer's wonder wrote these words:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him,and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4
Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer-prize winning author, has also mused on the vastness of space. At one point a friend sent her a composite photograph of the planet Mercury. Interestingly, someone had taken to naming various geographic scars on the planet, assigning to them the names of artists and musicians of days gone by. About this Robinson writes,
The thought occurred to me that if the name of everyone on earth who is remembered for any kind of distinction were assigned to a crater or a mountain or a seeming rivulet somewhere in the visible universe, astronomers would soon be out of names....
Scatter the names of all those who have ever lived over the surface of the knowable cosmos, and it would remain, for all purposes, as unnamed as it was before the small, anomalous flicker of human life appeared on this small, wildly atypical planet. Say that we are a puff of warm breath in a very cold universe. By this kind of reckoning we are either immeasurably insignificant or we are incalculably precious and interesting. I tend toward the second view.
I too tend toward the second view. By some counts there are 400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Looking beyond our little plot in the cosmos it becomes difficult -- impossible actually -- to determine the total number of stars in the universe. I read recently where NASA conceded this celestial complication, employing the "number" zillions in a vain attempt to put a lasso around space.
While zillions of stars does make me feel immeasurable insignificant in some respects, when I read John's gospel a David-like wonder wells up inside of me. John tells me that I am indeed "incalculably precious and interesting" to God:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17 ESV
Miraculously, wonderfully, amazingly Jesus traversed a universe so large we cannot measure it, passing stars so numerous we cannot count them to carry out his rescue mission. He did this for me. He did this for you.
"The thought occurred to me..." from "Austerity as Ideology" in When I Was A Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. Pages 35-36.