For some reason, my mind has recently been drawn to pondering space. I think partly that is because of recent achievements in space exploration: NASA successfully landed a probe on an asteroid in October, SpaceX delivered four astronauts to the International Space Station in November, Japan completed a six-year mission to bring asteroid samples to Earth just a few days ago, and China recently landed a probe on a little-explored part of the moon.
Or maybe my mind is drifting off to space because it feels like an escape from the current state of things down here on Earth. There’s no COVID in the stars. While our world seems to be descending into chaos, the sun is still burning, the planets still spinning, galaxies still forming, the universe still expanding. I may not understand the science behind all of that, but I know that whatever is happening out there is undisturbed by our human predicaments here.
Scripture itself has also drawn my gaze to the night sky. During the first week of Advent, my family and I reflected on Isaiah 40 in which the author writes,
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
And calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
Not one of them is missing. (40:26, NIV)
Add to that the nativity imagery of angels erupting into song in the night sky and Magi following a star to find the newborn king, and I am completely captivated by all things astronomical.
Thus, when I consider the word glory, my mind thinks of the great depths of the universe—light waves from stars travelling billions of years before reaching my eyes, stars living and dying and birthing new ones, the mysteries of dark matter, planets of gas and ice and rock, galaxies of all shapes and sizes. I think of God speaking light into existence, setting a sun in place to govern the day and a moon to illuminate the night, and studding the dark of night with stars. When you look up at the night sky, how can you not see the glory of it?
Even so, that is only the glory of the creation. How much more glorious must be the Creator! Surely the one who dreamt up the glories of the universe is robed in even more glorious sights. Surely the Great Artist of creation walks with stardust underfoot and pure light all around. Surely we are not worthy of entering the presence of such a being.
And yet the one who calls forth the stars by name also called Abraham by name. The one who ignited the sun also set light to a pillar of fire guiding slaves out of Egypt. The one who formed planets from stardust formed a nation from people wandering through the dust of the desert. The one who is light itself entered the darkness of a woman’s womb.
What can it mean that the one who granted glory to the stars chose to dwell in the body of a human infant? What can it mean that the one who created the Earth chose to walk upon it? What must it mean that the one who rubs shoulders with the stars chose to call the poor, the hungry, and the blind his brothers and sisters?
I think it means that glory is not so far from us. Sure, we can look up to the stars and see it. But we can also direct our eyes to look around us—right here in our neighborhoods, in our city, amongst the people we know. The glory of God is all around—as thick as the valley tule fog—and we can perceive it if only we have eyes to see.
I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at the night sky through a telescope but think about what happens when an eye peers through that glass. What had appeared to be a dark sky to the naked eye becomes a wondrous, beautiful sight through the lens of the telescope. It is as if the entire universe comes pouring into the looker’s eye. The telescope funnels the glory of the galaxies into the humble eye of a human being. So too Jesus, in his very being, funnels the glory of God into life on Earth. When Mary birthed the Holy Child that Christmas night, the line between heaven and earth, Creator and creation, divine and human, glorious and grim—it suddenly began fading as the first poured into the second. While God’s glory had previously only been revealed to the select few—like Moses’s encounter with the burning bush—it was now inhabiting the Earth amongst and alongside humanity. In Jesus, glory was brought to the masses. Divine glory could now be seen, smelled, touched, tasted, and heard. Like a meteorite that has crashed into Earth, Jesus is God’s glory with some dust on it. What once was too far away to perceive has come near.
Like the Magi, I have followed the stars. I have directed my eyes upward to the stars until the stars have directed my eyes back down. Just as the stars guided the Magi’s eyes to a human family, the stars have also guided my eyes back to humanity—for that is where God’s glory shines brightest. This I have learned: I need not search space for signs of God’s glory, I need only to look at my neighbor. For the glory that shines in the ancient night sky is the same glory that shines in the dark of my neighbor’s eye.
Go outside sometime and look at the stars. If there’s too much light pollution where you live, either drive out of the city or even look up images of space online. Take it all in. Feel the sense of wonder at the glory of God. Write down a few words—words that describe the glory you are seeing.
Next time you see someone in your neighborhood or just around town, look them in the eye. Think of those words you wrote down. Remind yourself that the same glory you saw in the sky is present in your neighbor.
Ask God to give you eyes to see the glory all around you.