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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

In 1977, George Lucas struck box-office gold with the epic-adventure, Star Wars. Mystic luminaries, anthropomorphic androids, light sabers, and computerized special effects captured the imaginations of audiences, young and old alike. But perhaps the most lasting impression on viewers was Obi-wan Kenobi’s Delphic disclosure: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power… It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

An invisible source of staggering energy, permeating the cosmos that common folk could summon for noble or ignoble ends, was the perfect hook for audiences brought up in the dawning age of high technology and Western mysticism. At the height of the film’s popularity I was playing on a community soccer team named “The Force”; we co-opted the film tagline, “May the Force be with you,” for our game whoop. The tagline may have contained more truth than Lucas and Co. realized.

A Startling Discovery
Over 20 years after the initial Star Wars episode, the astrophysics community stumbled on an extraordinary revelation.

Although the outward expansion of the universe had been a well-established fact since 1929 when Edwin Hubble detected redshifts in light emitted from distant stars, measurements from supernovae in the late 1990’s revealed that galaxies and stars are receding from each other at an ever increasing rate. In other words, the universe is not only expanding, but accelerating. Physicists, scrambling to identify the source of this phenomenon, dubbed it, “dark energy,” because of its mysterious, hidden nature.

Subsequent measurements revealed that this invisible force, suffusing the cosmos, accounts for an amazing 70 percent of all the stuff in the universe. If you add to that, all of the dark matter in the universe—matter that is not visible—then dark “stuff” makes up 95 percent of the known cosmos.

The unexpected appearance of dark energy, and its implications for understanding the universe, has led prominent physicists to call it the biggest question in all of physics. As University of Chicago physicist Michael Turner put it, “Dark energy holds the key to understanding our destiny… [and] could well be the number one problem in all of physics and astronomy.” It is a mystery they are determined to unravel. Continue reading here.

One of the oddities of the Bible is how little it reveals about the life of Jesus. All we know of Jesus prior to age thirty are a few sketchy accounts by Matthew and Luke, with gospel writers Mark and John completely silent on his early life.

While the omission has piqued the interest and imagination of many a Bible student, the details that are there, though few, are profound in significance—not the least of which, is that his first recorded public appearances are in the temple: At eight days old, his infant cries pierced the ears of his circumciser; thirty-two days later, his grinning coos warmed the hearts of Simeon and Anna; Then, as 12-year-old “missing child,” his thoughtful words stimulated the minds of Israel’s teachers.

Fast forward to the end of his public ministry and Jesus is again at the temple where his voice rumbles throughout the courts as his drives out the moneychangers, upbraids the religious leaders, and, finally, looks over the city weeping aloud for his countrymen. Even from the remove of Golgotha, his last words, “It is finished,” reach the temple in a thunder clap that shreds the veil from top to bottom.

The prominence of the temple at both ends of Jesus’s life points to its importance in biblical history and beyond.

Earth as Temple
In the edenic era, earth was a creation-temple, facilitating human-divine congress so that man could enjoy fellowship with God.

One can imagine the original creation as a hyper-dimensional realm in which heaven and earth were not separate, but adjoined, overlapping and interlocking, allowing God, a hyper-dimensional Being, to be manifestly present for man.

(As a teasing side note: some scientists see evidence that our universe came from a higher dimensional one. But that’s a topic for another day.)

This doesn’t mean that the original creation was non-physical, but that it was more than physical, perhaps like Jesus’s resurrected body that could be seen, touched, and felt, but could pass through solid objects and move from place-to-place instantly and effortlessly, prefiguring the new creation.

The human design, as Imago Dei, is suggestive of the kind of intimacy God initiated with Adam and Eve and desires with us.

But what was, was interrupted and changed with the Fall. Continue reading here.

It seems peculiar that the gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent centers not on Christ’s first coming, but his second. In all three liturgical years, the gospel passage is taken from the Olivet Discourse—Jesus’s lengthy response to the eschatological curiosities of the disciples. But maybe that is not as peculiar as it seems.

In arresting prose, the synoptic writers report the Creator of all things privileging the disciples into secrets about end things. Interweaving predictions about the destruction of Jerusalem and his future return to earth, Jesus tells them of wars, famines, false Christs, and more. His purpose was not to shock or frighten them, but to prepare them—and not just for the far off events that provoked their curiosity.

Punctuating his revelations are warnings to be watchful, ready, and engaged in faithful service—imperatives for God’s people in every age. But for the disciples those warnings had immediate relevance which, like many times before, went unheeded.

For in a matter of hours, Jesus would be prostrate in the garden praying, while his disciples were sleeping; he would be hauled away by an angry mob, while his disciples fled in panic; he would be brought before a kangaroo court to be ridiculed, spat upon, and struck, while one of his closest intimates vehemently and repeatedly denied him; he would be scourged, marched to Golgotha, and nailed to the cross, while men who had been his constant companions cowered in an upper room, abandoning him to his persecutors.

Incredibly, after three years at the feet of their master, the disciples were no better prepared for the unfolding of prophetic history than they were at the beginning of their tutelage. And that should trigger a question for us: Are we prepared? Standing in history between the Incarnation and the Parousia, are we advancing his kingdom as we watch for his return?

More to the point, are we even expecting his return? Given the 2000 year lapse, have his warnings slipped into the cluttered closets of our memory or, worse, has the delay eroded our confidence in his prophesy or, for that matter, in him?

If those questions cause hesitation, it signals the need to revisit God’s story—the biblical record of Divine activity in the course of human history. The historical record of what God has done, provides a rational basis for confidence in what he has said he will do.

Playing Back God’s Story
Reading the history of Israel is like listening to a CD stuck on “repeat.” Over and over, widespread apostasy led to divine discipline, provoking national repentance followed by a brief period of revival.

Despite withering warnings of prophets, the Israelites repeatedly succumbed to pagan influences when they should have been attending to God’s word, they adopted pagan practices when they should have been transforming pagan culture, and they became a stumbling block to their pagan neighbors when they should have been a blessing to them.

To break the cycle, Israel’s leaders continually played back God’s story, reminding the people of God’s benevolence toward the nation: the parting of the Red Sea, the pillars of cloud and fire, water from the rock, manna from heaven, deliverance from their enemies, conquest of the Promised Land, and the like.

The leaders also proclaimed prophesies, hundreds of them, among the people. Some were given as warnings about the consequences of disobedience while others were given as assurances of God’s ultimate plan for restoring all things.

Two things are extraordinary about the latter: first, they were made far in advance of the events they described; and, second, many of the fulfilling events—including dozens concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—were recorded and passed on to people contemporary to those events.

From Public to Personal
God’s story is more than a record of past and future works on behalf of mankind; it includes personal testimonies of his present work in the lives of individuals.

Daniel, who prophesied about events in the near and far future, gave witness to God’s faithfulness in the present—answering his prayers and delivering him and his friends from capital punishment. In the Psalms, David repeatedly praises God for guiding, protecting, and strengthening him. Jeremiah’s lamentations over the sins of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem include praises to God for comforting him during imprisonment and rescuing him from his enemies.

Nevertheless, spiritual vacillation produced a generation that was ill-prepared for the coming Messiah. Instead of watching for the Lamb of God who would deliver them from sin, first century Jews were expecting the conquering King who would deliver them from Gentile subjugation.

A generation later, eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ detailed, in four independent narratives, how he fulfilled the promises in Scripture from Genesis 3:15 to Malachi 3:1. And for those who failed to notice, Paul explained how the fulfillments occurred among individuals, still living, who could contest any fictions or correct any errors.

Like the Old Testament writers, Paul also shared how God’s story had played out in his own life. In his letter to the Romans, Paul gives witness to Jesus for freeing him from the law of sin and death. He told the Corinthian church how God encouraged and strengthened him during a time of personal torment. And to the Philippians, Paul testifies to his Source of contentment and efficacy in all things.

The gospel readings for the first Sunday of advent remind us that God’s story did not end at Golgotha, the death of the apostles, or the completion of Scripture, but continues on the cosmic stage.

They also remind us that Christians are to be an expectant people, living in the sure hope that as God “showed up” once, he will show up again. Until then, he is active in the lives of individuals who are waiting, watching, and working to establish his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

A Personal Testimony
Most Christians can point to times in their lives when God “showed up”—maybe in an answered prayer, a healing, an encouraging word, a needed revelation. Throughout my Christian life, I have had a number of such occurrences, of which, I’ll share one.

I had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. My timeline, according to the oncologist, was three weeks. But three weeks turned into three months, then three years and now, ten years after being declared in clinical remission, I remain cancer-free.

Prior to that declaration, however, two questions hung in the air like the scent of decaying flesh: Continue reading here.

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