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Advent Part IV: The Call to Awe

Advent Part IV: The Call to Awe

December 18, 2022

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Last summer, watching my badly skinned knee heal, I went to the internet to read about biology I had long forgotten. I read about the circulatory system’s role in healing (thank you, heart; thank you, lungs) and about various cells that have their own specialized jobs (thank you, platelets and microphages). I learned that the wound would be repaired in a predictable manner, from the inside out and from the edges in, thanks to blood-borne “chemical messengers” that know when to give the right signal to the right cell to do the right thing. (I remember that, in the Bible, the word for “messenger” often gets translated as “angel.” So, thank you, chemical angels.)

At the same time that I was reading about the invisible activity mending the flesh of my skinned knee, NASA released the first photos from the James Webb Space Telescope—photos that make visible other amazements that our unaided human eyes cannot see. The only words I can think of to describe the pictures—astonishing, mysterious, ethereal—are inadequate. So are any words I could think of to describe the telescope itself; but NASA expects that it “will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around us, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.” Wow.

The first Webb picture was released on July 11 with the title “Deep Field: SMACS 0723.” The photo shows a “galaxy cluster… as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago.” To convey a sense of scale, the accompanying caption explains that “[t]his slice of the vast universe is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.” Wow again. The scale is awesome!

In some respects, it’s hard to know which is most miraculous—the very existence of such a galaxy cluster, the fact that aeronautical engineers can build machines to take pictures of it, or the fact that astrophysicists can interpret the data rendered by such images and explain them to people like me.

The same might be said of our bodies. Which is more miraculous, our biological complexity and bodily wisdom; or the fact that, thanks to medical science, we can know some of the ways our bodies function even though our unaided human eyes cannot see all that is going on?

A skinned knee, slowly healing. Interstellar space. Every second of every day, awesome things are happening, even though they may be completely invisible to us. Such astonishments are as close as our skin, our heartbeat, our breath. They are as distant as the “Cosmic Cliffs” of the Carina Nebula. And they are everywhere in between.

In this fourth week of Advent, what gives you a sense of awe? With whom might you share it?

—Angier Brock


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