Sunday, December 30, 2018

Matthew 2.1-12: Look! Up in the Sky!

The story of Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12) is, in one sense, about a quest...to follow a star...no matter how hopeless...no matter how far.* That star that guided the magi has long been the subject of speculation and investigation by scientists and theologians and poets and dreamers. The months of December 2018 and January 2019 have seen (or will see) several astronomical events. On December 22, the night after the 2018 winter solstice, a full moon (the "Cold Moon") lit up the sky. On the morning of December 21, Mercury and Jupiter rose together. The peak of the Ursids meteor showers occurred during the same several days.

On January 20-21, 2019, skywatchers in the Americas, Greenland, Iceland, western Europe and western Africa will see a Super Blood Wolf Moon eclipse. This will be the last total lunar eclipse until May 26, 2021. The full moon is called a supermoon as it will appear bigger and brighter in the sky. As the shadow of the earth moves between the sun and the moon, earth's shadow will cover the moon, the sun's light will bend toward the moon, turning it blood red. It is called a Wolf Moon because it is the first full moon in January.
Giotto di Bondone. Adoration of the Magi. 1303. Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy. 
In 1303 Giotto di Bondone covered the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel with two fresco cycles. One  tells the life of Jesus; the other, the life of Mary. Giotto's composition for the Adoration of the Magi includes the Bible's Star of Bethlehem but portrays it as a comet...with a tail as big as a kite. Halley's Comet had been visible in the sky during November and December of 1301. The artist was no doubt influenced, even inspired, by the heavenly activity, even two years later when he began the Scrovegni frescoes. The comet streaks across the sky leading the eye of the viewer to a point directly over the place where Jesus is. Just like in the Bible story.

The European Space Agency returned the favor when they launched a space probe whose mission was to study the nucleus of Halley's Comet. Launched in July 1985 and coming within 370 miles of the nucleus in March 1986, the probe was named Giotto. Giotto's on-board color camera took photos of the comet.

The Psalmist (Psalm 19) reminds us that the heavens are telling the glory of God:
God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.
Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded,
But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
God makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome!
The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed,
The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape.
That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset,
Melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith. (The Message)


The magi were used to looking at the sky. Because of that they were among the first recorded to show to the world who Jesus was. Perhaps we should be looking up more than we do.

*Lyrics from "The Impossible Dream" from Man of LaMancha. Lyrics by Joe Darion.

For additional thoughts on Isaiah 60:1-6, click here.
For additional thoughts on Matthew 2:1-12, click here and here.

This week on Art&Faith Matters on Facebook...an eclipse to accompany the comet in the life of Jesus. The heavens are telling.

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