The Magi, the Star, and the Wonders of Astrophysics / by Jeff Tacklind

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Einstein…maybe

 “People who do not believe in miracles never experience miracles.”  Richard Rohr

One of the most interesting facts about the advent story is that practically everyone missed it.  The scribes, kings, Pharisees, religious leaders; none of them had any idea what had just taken place that Christmas night.  Mary and Joseph enter Bethlehem in disgrace, shamed and shunned by both family and faith.  Shepherds, unworthy of being counted in the census, are the ones that the angels sing to.  It is the pagan magi from the east that discover the star, read the signs, and make the long journey to bear gifts for the newborn king.

The only ones who receive the good news are the ones who have forfeited their rights to it.  They no longer fit in the inner circles.  They are sitting on the outside.  The outer ring turns out to be God’s inner circle.

Not that the message of peace on earth had an exclusive audience.  Everyone just happened to be too busy or they were looking in the wrong places.  The assumption was that any new truth or revelation would be even more orthodox, even more secure, even more validating of their current beliefs, not less.  They were looking for revelation to match their existing categories, not redefine them.

Comfort and certainty have a way of narrowing us.  They can blind us to receiving new revelation.  We stop seeing.  We become myopic.  We stop searching.  We lose that childlike wonder.

Which is why God writes stories like these.  They are intentionally subversive, disruptive, and even deconstructive.  All our assumptions are turned on their head.  Because this is the only way we learn anything new.  Suddenly we’re paying attention again.

I just read a statement from Richard Rohr where he writes, “There are basically two paths that allow people to have a genuinely new experience: the path of wonder and the path of suffering.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking…I’ll take wonder, please.  Me too.  But this is easier said than done.  Wonder must be willing to be proven wrong, open to being converted, to compromise or being corrected.  Too often our pursuit of our “faith” is really just seeking after the answers that make us “right.”  We stop exploring.  We stop questioning.  We settle in and stop seeking.  But when we do, we stop seeing, noticing, discovering.

I think that if the Messiah came to earth today, it would be the physicists that find him first.  I say this because this is where I hear the most wonder being spoken today.  It isn’t even what is being said, as much as how it is being said.  It is the physicists that are searching, carefully, and even cautiously, and are discovering elegance, beauty and mystery.

Look at this for example from the renowned theoretical physicists, Frank Wilczek,

“Paradoxically, there’s a word to describe beauty that can’t be described in words—‘ineffable.’  Having experienced the ineffable beauty of Maxwell’s equations, one would be disappointed if they were wrong.  As Einstein said in a similar context, when asked his general theory of relativity might be proved wrong, ‘Then I would feel sorry for the good Lord.’”

Don’t you love that?  Maybe you don’t, but I sure do. These brilliant scientific minds have discovered something so beautiful that they can’t put it into words, elegance that leaves them breathless, speechless.  Something that holds even our spiritual beliefs accountable.  If our beliefs aren’t big enough to contain the cosmos, then so much for our beliefs.

Often we see science as the enemy of faith, but I think this is nonsense.  Certainly it can be misused in such a way, like any tool.  But when our faith causes us to put up blinders, to cling to our small stories and see ideas and forward thinking as necessarily harmful, we cost ourselves not just our intellectual credibility.  We lose out on the wonder of new discovery, of expanding beauty, of the kingdom of heaven growing from that mustard seed into a massive and expanding tree in which the birds take rest.

When we cut ourselves off from the wonder, we do more than stop growing. We wither.  Our faith becomes dulled, threatened, too small.  When the wonder goes, so goes the revelation, and with it, our joy.

In classical philosophy there are three transcendentals or properties of being.  Three absolutes that all men long for and long for absolutely.  They are truth, goodness, and beauty.  We are drawn to truth by its goodness, and we are drawn to goodness by its beauty.

One of my favorite scientists turned philosopher was Michael Polanyi.  Polanyi believed that the inspiration of the artist and the scientist were one and the same.  His friend and peer, Einstein, concurred.

Truth seekers are artists.  They aren’t afraid of ideas or questions.  Like the magi, they will follow the stars.  Because this wonder, this childlike faith can be trusted.  It yields the right kind of fruit.  It is beautiful.

Why do I say all this?  Because it is at this time of year, the season of advent, where we let this story of the coming of the Messiah continue to do its work.  To disrupt us.  To overturn the tables of our complacency and comfortability, and to see again with new eyes.  What we see is a story of such beauty and simplicity, where the very nature of God’s heart is revealed.  The Truth comes in meekness.  It empties itself and doesn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.  It humbles itself by becoming obedient, even to the point of death on a cross.

The beauty of this story speaks for itself.  What we must do is let this beautiful story change our own hearts.  We can sit in this story and let the mystery do its work. Chesterton said, “The world will never starve for want of wonders, only want of wonder.”

This third week of advent, this week of joy, may our eyes be opened to the wonder of the world and the cosmos around us.  May the story of the incarnation work its mystery in our own hearts, and may our lives reveal the beauty of the goodness of the Truth, the miracle of Emmanuel, God with us.  Amen.