On a moonless night, the planet Venus is the brightest object in the night sky. It’s followed by the planet Jupiter, with the planet Saturn not too far behind. Every 20 years, Jupiter appears in the western sky at early evening to be very close to Saturn from our earthbound perspective. Next week, on December 21st, they will be in what astronomers call “conjunction,” meaning they will appear, at least in most parts of the northern hemisphere, to be as one super bright body in the southwestern sky. Such a conjunction has not happened since March 4, 1226. This will be the "greatest" great conjunction, until 2080. Following that, the two planets won’t make such a close appearance until sometime after the year 2400.
This seemingly random event makes what’s left of the scientific part of my brain wonder if such a planetary conjunction might have been what led the wise men westward toward Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Of course, it could have been a nova, supernova or aurora, but I wonder about such things that seem random, but aren’t.
They aren’t random because we can measure them. They were set in motion billions of years ago when our solar system was formed. It takes Jupiter 11.86 earth years to orbit the sun while Saturn’s orbit is 29 earth years. While they go their own way around the sun, their relationship is highly predictable. From our perspective they’re close in the night sky every 20 years. Every few hundred years, they appear as one awesomely bright heavenly body. While rare, it’s predictably relational. An event like this conjunction is in no way unique in science. In fact, the more we understand about the universe, the more we learn that what appears random is in fact relational. The study of quantum physics itself has proven that our universe, even at the sub-atomic level is quite relational.
In the first chapter of the gospel of John, we find the New Testament version of the creation story. It reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth…but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” John’s creation story tells us that Christ dwelt with God, his Father, before the creation of the world as we know it. Christ was part of that creation and a few billion years later was made flesh in the birth of a baby to a girl named Mary in Bethlehem. His birth wasn’t any more random than creation itself.
If not random, then why? Well, that answer is above my pay grade, though my sense is that most of the dogma is more complex than necessary. It seems to me that John is simply telling us that Jesus was born for the same reason we were born—full of grace and truth, so as to give grace and truth. He came to show us love, God’s perfect love. And God’s love is truth. The life and death of Jesus Christ also tells us too clearly that God’s perfect love has to be relational. If it’s not relational, it’s merely abstract and worthless.
The creation? The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem? Our existence? None of this is random. It’s all relational, just like the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on December 21st. This is true even in the midst of a pandemic.
Merry Christmas. Be safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies.
© Charles D. Jones www.re-calibrating.com