It turns out that the center of the Milky Way might smell like rum and taste a bit like raspberries. Ethyl formate, one of the molecules that gives raspberries their flavor and rum its smell, has now been found in deep space. In a way this is hardly remarkable. After all, it’s no surprise that we are made of the same stuff as the stars. And yet, there is poignancy to this new piece of knowledge, to know that beauty is as intimate and near and sublime as eating raspberries on a clear summer night.
Likewise, the book of Genesis speaks of a touching presence and unfathomable grandeur. After the fiasco between Adam and Eve in the garden, God was present, but often in some mediated form or another: in burning bushes, in angel visitations, in the voice of prophets, or in vision. This was the case with Abram, whose story in Genesis 15 I was meditating on this morning. Even without fully setting his eyes on the face of God, there was still every reason to be afraid. But God is gentle, providing hope.
One night, God drags Abram outside and makes this promise, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” Abram was looking at the Milky Way, and you could bet dollars to donuts that the light sent by those stars still has not reached earth, to find us. What happened between God and Abram that night, so many centuries ago, is for the stars, a mere moment. For us, their light is still a promise yet to be.
God’s habit is to draw near. This God who created light with a word is also a God who will not let us go. There seems to be no good reason to do so except out of sheer love for creation. There appears to be no other compelling logic for this magnificent God, who merely utters a word and there is time and space and light, to draw us close. And most of all, even for us who call ourselves Christians, there appears to be no traceable metric that drives God to finally become flesh in Christ.
And though we, who confess that we are broken and frail, at times weak and always prone to death, also confess that this incarnation of God is desperately needed, and we can find no other reason for this God to become bone and blood and vulnerability other than a magnificent love. Our God, who has chosen to whisper all things into being, to create raspberries and stars, to shape time and hope, has also chosen to take on our lives, with all their quirks and sins and finalities.
An inherent tension weaves itself throughout the biblical narrative, this tension between God’s faithfulness and our doubt, God’s unimaginable love for us and our inability to let go of our ourselves to live fully in that love, trusting that despite appearances, God will not leave us or fail us. God, in Christ, longs to gather all his children as a hen gathers her brood. Only a deep, resistant, stubborn, and foolish love can speak like this. Only a love that is willing to give all, risk all. Only the love of God who will present Godself over to death so, now, time and space and promise slip, and there is nothing in the whole universe that can separate us from who God is.
In Christ, we know that God did not want to remain in the heavens. Infinity folds upon itself and flesh and light, breath and time are born. And though the promise given to Abram has never ended, nor has it changed, God chose to become that self-limited, particular promise in Christ, to love us, a particularly difficult creature at times and to enter our particular time and place. And this God, a creator beyond all our measures, chose us, in wild and magnificent love. The universe is jarred: dust and light and bone, rum and resurrection and redemption, are loosed into time and space. And now, our sorrow and our hopes are taken into God. And in this God, the only thing that remains fixed, the sole certainty, is a heartbreaking promise, a magnificent love.