The Good News: God Has Sent His Son
Although it’s nearly three hours long and takes a while to get going, a science fiction film like Interstellar, with its scenario about human race being doomed on a dying planet earth, helps to focus on just how precarious humanity’s hold on existence is. OK, our being helped by mysterious beings—maybe humans from the distant future who enable travel through a ‘wormhole’ to otherwise unreachable galaxies—is far-fetched. Yet at the heart of the film is what one of the scientists on this exploratory journey, Anne, remarks to the apparently over-rational Captain Cooper: that there’s a greater force than human reason. For her, love ‘must have a purpose’, and ‘is the one thing that transcends time and space.’
But the real story of humanity is a lot more mysterious and wonderful. Chapter 7 of the ICCA is called ‘The Good News: God Has Sent His Son’, and whatever about the highly unlikely possibility of humans travelling to other galaxies, the gap between our universe and the Beginningless and Unending Love beyond space and time who created it is infinitely greater.
It always helps me to get an idea of what’s involved by going back 5,200 years, to our ancestors who erected at Newgrange an egg-shaped holy mountain in the hope that somehow they could bridge that gap between time and eternity. You can imagine their anxiety as they waited and waited during the longest night of the year for the sign that the earth would be reborn again with the first powerful rays of the sun penetrating the small entrance at the dawning of the first day of the solar New Year on December 21st. Seamus Heaney asked of that ‘eastern dazzle’ slowly brightening up the cosmic hill: ‘Who dares say “love”/ At this cold coming? Who would not dare say it?’
Those stoneage Irish made an immense effort to await the coming of a power greater than themselves, to save and renew the world and themselves. No less anxiously, perhaps, are many in our own society waiting, not for Godot, but for a real direction in their lives. After many years of atheism, in 1980, the last year of his life, the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre published a dialogue with his ex-Maoist secretary, Pierre Victor, where he said: ‘I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.’
It’s as if after years of looking in the wrong direction, at last a light, however fitful, began to dawn for this philosopher who’d always insisted on never being categorised, always being open to change, till he made the one change, towards God, his disciples just couldn’t forgive.
Benedict XVI’s little masterpiece, The Infancy Narratives, shows how the question Pilate put to Christ, ‘Where are you from?’ is answered ‘grandly and emphatically’ in St John’s Gospel. Very much aware of the opening lines of the Book of Genesis, ‘In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth’, ‘John wants us to take us beyond Genesis, to the One who is God, the Creator.’ So he writes, ‘without any reference to creation: In the Beginning Was the Word. That is to say, before heaven and earth began, before that beginning of creation was the One through whom everything that was created. And that One was the Word.’
That’s why our Advent-awaiting Christmas is so exciting: with an expectation deeper than the 140,000 years of human hope for a saviour, with a quest for Truth even more insistent than Jean Paul Sartre’s, we’re preparing for the coming into our space-time universe and into our hearts of the Divine Word of God, the One conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
So, the answer to our own at times anxious question, ‘Who am I?’ is to be found when we celebrate in Christmas the foundational event of humankind and of each human being, the truth that God’s Love through the Incarnation of Jesus does indeed transform our time and space. And if only we will respond to that love – by what Benedict XVI memorably called ‘the space travel of the heart’ – we will attain, beyond the galaxies, ‘the new dimension of world-embracing divine love.’