“Good News of Great Joy,” Day 19: Seeing God’s Hand in Natural Events

December 18, 2015

booklet_coverI recently created a 26-day Advent devotional booklet for my church called “Good News of Great Joy.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and Christmas day. Enjoy!

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-6

Several years ago, I visited a parishioner who was convalescing at home after a debilitating illness. He was a former NASA scientist—with a Ph.D. from Harvard—who was also an amateur astronomer. (“Amateur” in the truest sense of the word: he didn’t need compensation to pursue his love for the stars.) To pass the time and keep his sanity during his long recovery, he engaged in some astronomical research.

“I’ve made a discovery,” he told me with excitement as he greeted me at the door. “I know the date on which Jesus was born!”

“Really?” He sensed skepticism in my voice. He then qualified his earlier words: Maybe he didn’t know the exact date, but he had a narrow range of dates, within a couple of weeks, given certain assumptions. “Look, I’ll show you.” He explained his findings using a star chart, the Bible, and various clippings from astronomy journals.

Surprisingly, it all seemed very… plausible to me. And he wasn’t a crackpot. He said that it wasn’t actually a star, per se, but a morning star—Jupiter, I believe—which would have been visible to the magi at this particular time in this particular region. Contrary to popular illustrations of the Star of Bethlehem and Christmas songs like “Do You Hear What I Hear,” this astral phenomenon was not something just anyone would have noticed. But for men like these magi who made their living studying the night sky, this would have been an incredibly curious event.

The point is, through this natural event, God was speaking to the magi.

In this sense, miracles happen all the time, even if we can “explain” them naturally. For the magi, every moment was imbued with the possibility of encountering God. That being the case, they waited and watched for God, discerning his presence in the ordinary, the mundane, and the everyday.

If only we could follow their example! We might learn to see God’s fingerprints everywhere!

In his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster describes a worship service he was leading in someone’s home on a hot summer evening.

The doors were left open in hopes of a breeze. At one point in the meeting, I encouraged everyone to “wait on the Lord” in listening silence. The stillness was quickly interrupted by the homeowner’s cat scratching at the screen door, seeking entrance. The more I tried to ignore the cat, the worse it got. I prayed that God would do something—send the cat away, magically open the door, and other more drastic prayers that I shall not mention, since you may have a fondness for cats. (Strangely, it never occurred to me to get up and let the cat in!)

Later in the evening, someone mentioned the cat. Everyone began sharing how distracting the cat had been on their ability to focus on God. Everyone, that is, except Bill—a former missionary filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Bill sat pensive, uttering not a word. “Bill,” I queried, “what are you thinking?” “Oh,” he spoke deliberately, “I was just wondering what God wanted to say to us through the cat?”[1]

I’m not quite where Bill is in this story—maybe not even close. But I’d like to be!

Are we aware of God’s presence in the ordinary, the mundane, and the everyday? Is God trying to get our attention? Are we paying attention?

1. Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 86.

2 Responses to ““Good News of Great Joy,” Day 19: Seeing God’s Hand in Natural Events”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Very good post. I am in your camp as seeing most “natural” events which “distract” me as more “problematic” than helpful.

    Interesting suggestion as to Jupiter. However, I don’t really know if I can go with some “ordinary” celestial “entity.” How could it “move” towards where the Christ child resided at the time? (Maybe Nazarus by then as opposed to Bethlehem, if the Star did not appear until the birth?) And apparently “disappear” and “reappear”? However, I am curious as to “when” your parishioner concluded the birth was. According to “a-biblical” accounts, this Herod died in 4 B.C., so if he had the babies killed from 2 years old and under, the birth might have been at least as early as 6 B.C. I’ve been curious on that point ever since I learned of Herod’s proclaimed “death date.”

    • brentwhite Says:

      I wish I remembered the date he gave! He made reference to a paper that had just been published in an astronomy journal at the time (around the summer of 2008). Maybe some googling could help us find it. He didn’t think it was “ordinary” at all—nor would these magi, who were themselves expert astronomers. It was very unusual, which is why they knew something significant had taken place. Also, it’s likely that they knew Jews who had remained in their part of the world (since the time of the Babylonians). So they could put two and two together.

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