“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”— Carl Sagan
The sun is about 93 million miles from Earth. The speed of light in a vacuum such as space is 186,282 miles per second. Since time equals distance over speed, that mean it takes light from our star about eight minutes and 19 seconds to get to us.
The closest star to us, other than our star Sol, is Proxima Centauri, which is a little under 4Ú light years away. Now a light year is not a measure of time, but a measure of distance. It is how far a beam of light traveling at that tremendous speed can go in a year’s time; that’s about 6 trillion miles. That means the closest star to us other than our sun is about 25 trillion miles away.
These numbers are so vast that they begin to be hard to imagine and become almost meaningless. Let me help you out: A trillion is a thousand billion. If you covered a football field with $100 bills stacked 9 feet high, that’s what a trillion dollars in cash would look like. If you tried to count to a trillion, and counted pretty steadily, you could probably make it in a little less than 32,000 years.
The giant red star Betelgeuse (pronounced “Beetlejuice,” but if you say it three times Michael Keaton does not appear), in the constellation Orion is about 640 light years away. In other words, the light we see from that star left 640 years ago. The star itself is so vast that if you placed it at the center of our solar system, it is estimated it would encompass the orbits of the planets at least out to Mars.
Now this is not necessarily a lesson on astronomy; it is more a lesson on perspective.
We Christians believe that at Christmas, Love truly came down to earth. God became man — the incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us. Imagine that! A being who can traverse these vast distances not in years, but instantaneously, with a thought, cared so much about His creation that He limited that portion of Himself as the triune God to become mortal — to get tired and hungry and cranky; to hurt mentally, physically and spiritually; to be betrayed by one He considered friend; and while dying, to forgive those who did it to him; to show us the Way, the Truth and the Life.
He gave up the throne of heaven to come to this little mudball we call home to minister to us, to let us know Him better and perhaps know us better as well — to know our name! That, my friends, is, as at least one commentator has suggested, a miracle on par with the Resurrection itself. Why do such a thing?
There is a story told by, among others, the late Paul Harvey. I’ve tweaked it a bit, but it goes like this: There was a man. He was not a bad man. In fact, as men go, he was quite a good man. He was a pleasant neighbor. He was kind and considerate to all. He was a hard worker and good to his wife and children. He just was not Christian. He could not wrap his head around all that “God made man” stuff. He didn’t buy it.
One Christmas Eve, his wife, who was a believer, took the kids to a church service in town, a few miles away. He had settled in to read when he heard over the radio a forecast of snow, and later, bitterly cold temperatures. He thought his family would be OK as the worst of the storm was supposed to hit after midnight.
Just as he began to read his paper, he heard a commotion outside. Curious, he went to the window and saw a flock of birds in his yard. They apparently had not gotten the memo about going south for the winter, he thought to himself, and then he realized that the entire flock was in serious danger of freezing to death. Getting into his hat, coat and gloves, he went outside to see what he could do.
He thought if he opened his barn’s doors, perhaps the birds would see the shelter and go inside. Nothing doing. He tried shooing them in, but they were just frightened into the trees surrounding his house. He tried enticing them in with bread crumbs, but no dice. They just flopped around in the snow that had already started to fall.
He sat scratching his head, perplexed and disheartened about what to do. He truly cared about what happened to these helpless creatures.
“If I were only a bird for a little while,” he said to himself. “I could communicate with them. They wouldn’t see me as some big, scary thing. They would see me as another bird and trust me. I could get them to follow me into the barn, where it is warm, and dry and safe. If I were just a bird for a bit, I could save them all!”
Just then, off in the distance, a church bell began to toll. The man looked up and a stunned expression crossed his face as he got it. He understood. Then, he put his hands to his face and fell to his knees in the snow.
You see, my friends, you and I, we are the birds; and He who is Lord of all the stars has his eye on the sparrow.
May your Christmas be merry and bright and may 2018 be full of grace, love, happiness and peace.
R. Garry Glenn is an author, educator, broadcast journalist and world champion weightlifter. A certified lay speaker from McEver Road United Methodist Church, he has been serving Flowery Branch UMC this month. He and his wife Jill live in Oakwood.