The Big Story

(Homily for Epiphany)

Message: Like the Magi we need to discover the big story - the one that makes sense of our lives and the universe we are part of.

Last Sunday I mentioned the importance of knowing our "story," that is, how the events of our lives fit in with the bigger story, God's story. We saw the example of the flight into Egypt and how what happened to the Holy Family relates to the history of Israel. Matthew makes the connection explicit, "Out of Egypt I called my son."

Today we see some men from the east - non-Israelites - whose lives connect with the story of Israel. These men study the stars and find meaning in them. They know about the cosmic story - the story of the universe.

The cosmic story has two versions. The first says that the stars control us, that we are simply products of a cosmic process and, therefore, the stars determine our lives. The second view perceives a power behind the cosmic process. The Magi start out with the first theory: they study the night sky and try to figure out how the stars influence things here on earth. But when they come to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, things change. The Magi acknowledge a power greater than the stars, the cosmos. After they meet the Christ child, they have a direct form of guidance. These men, great astronomers of their day, become part of the story of Israel.

These two big theories or "stories" about the universe continue today. On one side you have people saying the cosmos is like an acorn: it starts small but develops into something vast and complex and that humans are one more part of that complexity. On the other side are people who say, "Yes, the universe began small like an acorn and evolved into something large and varied." But this side asks where the acorn came from and posits that it dropped from some kind of "oak." Everything that exists has codes, a kind of DNA, that points back to the original Oak. (I hope you see that in this comparison the "oak" is the supreme being, God.)

Some people think that one view is primitive and the other, modern. But they are wrong.* Both views have existed since humans started thinking about it.** The earliest Greek philosophers (call the "pre-Socratics") had the "acorn alone" view. After them came Plato and Aristotle who challenged the "acorn alone" view. They developed an "acorn and oak" view that addresses more questions than the earlier view.

The Magi had a similar journey. They went from focusing on cosmic forces to meeting the God behind them. The Magi discovered the great story of Israel - and it made sense out of what they were experiencing in their lives.

Like the Magi we need to discover the big story - the one that makes sense of our lives and the universe we are part of. It is true, what Isaiah says, "darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the people." But when we turn to the Lord as the Magi did, we discover something else, "upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory." Amen.***


*For example the Roman poet Lucretius proposed a view which sounds strikingly "modern." Here is how Stephen Greenblatt describes Lucretius theory: "the universe is made of an infinite number of atoms...moving randomly through space, like dust motes in a sunbeam, colliding, hooking together, forming complex structures, breaking apart again, in a ceaseless process of creation and destruction. There is no escape from this process. When you look up at the night sky and, feeling unaccountably moved, marvel at the numberless stars, you are not seeing the handiwork of gods or a crystalline sphere detached from our transient world. You are seeing the same material world of which you are a part and from whose elements you are made. There is no master plan, no divine architect, no intelligent design. All things, including the species to which you belong, have evolved over vast stretches of time. The evolution is random, though in the case of living organisms, it involves a principle of natural selection." (The Swerve, pp. 5-6)

Greenblatt gives a concise (and frank) statement regarding the perennial appeal of this view: "If you can hold on to and repeat to yourself the simplest fact of existence - atoms and void and nothing else, atoms and void and nothing else, atoms and void and nothing else - your life will will be freed from a terrible affliction - what Hamlet, many centuries later described as 'the dread of something after death,/The undiscovered country from whose bourn/No traveller returns.'" (Ibid., p. 75)

From Greenblatt we can see that the naturalistic theory of evolution is not a modern discovery forced on Darwin by a dispassionate examination of the evidence, but that it has a lot of old philosophy (and perhaps wishful thinking) mixed in.

**In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes the two views: 1)"that matter and space just happen to exist, and always have existed, nobody knows why" and 2)"what is behind the universe is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know." Then Lewis says, "Please do not think that one of these views was held a long time and ago and that the other has gradually taken its place. Wherever there have been thinking men both views turn up. And note this too. You cannot find out which view is the right one by science in the ordinary sense..." (pp. 31-32)

***After the homily the deacon (or lector or priest) may read the Epiphany Proclamation (date of Easter and other significant liturgical dates for 2014)

Spanish Version

From Archives (Epiphany Sunday)

2016: New Beginning: Lift up Your Eyes
2015: Two Uses of Science
2014: The Big Story
2013: Price of Liberation
2012: Where the Sun Is
2011: Science and God
2010: Three Types of People
2009: A Glimpse of the Mystery
2008: Where the Sun Is
2006: When Worlds Collide
2005: A Powerful River
2004: The Last Man
2003: The Materialist and the Magicians
2002: Astrology and the Christ Child
2001: Together with His Mother

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