We Are Not Alone

December 24, 2014

Christmas 2014

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When I turned 12 I received for my birthday the nerdiest gift you could imagine. It came from my parents, at my request. It’s this book: We Are Not Alone:  The Search for Intelligent Life on Other Worlds, by Walter Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan was the Science Editor for the NYT in those days, and the book was acclaimed as a layman’s primer on the new sciences of radio telescopes listening for other civilizations-- and computers speaking binary language-- and the latest research on the chemical ingredients of life.

As the book’s title tells us, We Are Not Alone. It speaks to the almost-universal wonderings we all have at times:  is this life all there is? Might there be other inhabited planets? And might there even be a personable Creator out there somewhere?  These are some of the questions that may have run through our minds if only the skies were clear tonight. We so often enter into that time of awe when we step outside after our Christmas Eve services and contemplate the night sky. (Too bad it’s raining tonight.)  

And so I grew up, an amateur astronomer, reading Sky and Telescope magazine, watching Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, and reflecting that there must be MORE.  I just knew there was.

And I was not alone in this wondering.  My brother Tom also shared my love of speculating on what’s out there. We would sit in our living room in Pittsburgh, and watch Star Trek together on Tuesday evenings while we ate our bowls of ice cream that our mom bought at the A & P. 

Later on we both became huge fans of “The X Files” on TV. To this day Tom is deeply involved in authenticating and recording UFO sightings in the Albany area. He’s been interviewed on radio about his experiences.  And he’s an avid ghost-hunter, too.

And I am an Episcopal priest, drawn to The Holy by the fascination planted early within me, to confirm and to celebrate that We Are Not Alone. The pull of the good news of great joy was too much for me to ignore. 

What good news is that?  Well—the news that we’re provided for; that there is a loving Higher Power of infinite compassion; that there is help, right here and now, for our culture, our countries, and our selves.

My brother and I pursue the same question, each of us from different directions:  science and theology. But perhaps they aren’t so different, really, but instead they’re 2 sides of the same coin. And that coin is called “wonder” and “awe.”

Tonight we celebrate the incarnation of God among us—the historical time more than 2000 years ago when God entered into human flesh in Jesus to be among us.  This God is no “deus ex machina” but loving Being who entered into our lives, fully human, fully divine, to reach us where we live. 

Now, most of us who think very much about the story will find so many improbabilities—even impossibilities—within it.  These may turn us off and we may be tempted to dismiss the story as a fairy tale.

What impossibilities am I talking about?

  • I’m speaking about the impossibility—the paradox—of a virgin giving birth.  That trips up a lot of people.

  • The paradox of a King/Messiah/Lord being wrapped in rags and lying in an animals’ feed box.  There’s a good one.

  • The visitation of angels glowing in the night?  That’s another detail that just adds to the fairy-tale feel of the story, right?

But as the educated sophisticates we are, (come on, this is Redding…!)  we’ll do well not to be entirely dismissive of paradox—because mystery plays a central role in human life. Rational thought doesn’t explain the things of the heart or the spirit.  Enlightenment comes from integrating the intellect with the heart. So listen to the longings that come from inside. They are often the voice of God.

What kinds of longings might they be?

Perhaps we yearn for peace in the family. Or peace in our cities or our world. Maybe we’re yearning for comfort, and a relief of the fear of aging and death. And perhaps, deep down, we long for the knowledge that we’re fully known by God, and that despite this, we’re still accepted and entirely loveable to God—if not always to other people. We yearn to know for sure that we are not alone.  

This Christmas and afterward, may we recognize that it’s ok to be both smart in intellect and gifted in the ways of the Spirit. These things are not at odds with each other. They’re complimentary, in fact.

And to reinforce that point I end today by showing you one of my favorite shirts. It came from the Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. The front shows us the warping of space and time that produces a black hole, from which no light can escape—and the equation that describes the parameters of black holes.  But the back—oh, the back!

Let me read it for you.

“And God said:”  [followed by 4 differential equations developed by the 19th century physicist James Clerk Maxwell to describe electromagnetism]. And ending with . . . “And there was light.” Pretty neat synthesis, eh?

So have a merry Christmas. Consider the impossibilities. Chew on the paradoxes.  Don’t stop asking questions. Open up to wonder with both your intellect and your heart. 

May each of us invite the Son of God to be born again within us.

And may we all move through our lives, more truly integrated, and know true peace, in all its forms.