a singularity in the universe
There’s been something interesting about the last five days, liturgically speaking. All through the season of Advent we’ve been hearing from all four gospels but for the first reading we’ve heard nothing but the prophet Isaiah. But these last days it’s the other way around: we’ve been hearing from a different source from the First Covenant every day, but only from the Gospel of Luke. I’m guess that there is a reason for that. Luke is all about the fulfillment of promises. This applies to Matthew to some extent as well, and so we heard the Book of Genesis before we heard the genealogy in Matthew, and from Jeremiah before we heard about Joseph’s dream. But then it really picked up, hearing about annunciation of the birth of Samson along with that of John the Baptist, back to Isaiah speaking to Ahaz leading us to Mary’s annunciation. I loved hearing the reading from the Song of Songs on the 21st––Hark, my lover, he comes!––leading up to the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (though we could have also heard from Zephaniah), and then the foreshadowing of Jesus himself in the presentation of Samuel in the temple by Hannah, and the roots of Mary’s Magnificat. And then we read this fiery passage from Malachi today, introducing us to john the Baptist again by warning us that Elijah is coming back. And today’s scene is filled with hushed awe and wonder as they gaze at this baby, John and ask each other, “What will this child be? Indeed the hand of the Lord is upon him!”
Recall how may times Elijah comes up in the gospels, several times specifically in relation to John the Baptist. Luke himself has said earlier when Gabriel announced John’s birth that he would be in the spirit and power of Elijah, and Jesus himself says of John in the Gospel of Mark that ‘Elijah has come. (Mk 9-12-13).’ This has led some to speculate that John the Baptist is actually the reincarnation of Elijah, a theory in which of course orthodox Christianity does not abide. In the Gospel of John the Baptizer himself is specifically asked if he is Elijah and he denies it.
No, that is somehow the beauty of human birth and John’s birth in particular, that each child born can be seen as somehow both a part of a greater plan and yet still have a singularity about him or her. Every birth is somehow the fulfillment of a promise, and of the promise: that time and history itself are going somewhere, and going somewhere good. There’s a beautiful passage from Adam Gopnick, published in the New Yorker some years ago, that I’ve kept for years, in which he is reflecting on the birth of his daughter, that seems to apply here:
But just then, looking at the sleeping mom and the tiny newborn in her arms, I had a genuine moment of what I can only call revelation, religious vision. When people talk about what it is to have a baby, they usually talk about starting over, a clean slate, endless possibility, a new beginning, but I saw that that is not it at all. A birth is not a rebirth. It’s a weighty event. In a telescopic universe, we choose to see microscopically, and the blessing is that what we see is not an illusion but what is really there: a singularity in the cosmos, another baby born… The world is a meaningless place, and we are weird, replicating mammals on its surface, and yet the whole purpose of the universe since it began was, in a way, to produce this baby, who is the tiny end point of a funnel that goes back to the beginning of time––a singularity that history was pointing toward from the start.
The whole purpose of the universe since it began was, in a way, to produce this baby, who is the tiny end point of a funnel that goes back to the beginning of time––a singularity that history was pointing toward from the start. How much more are we going to be able to say this about Jesus, who is, as Paul says, the realization of the mystery hidden from before all ages. But no less are able to say this about ourselves, that each of us too has a purpose in the great plan for the universe, each of us is the tiny end point of a funnel that goes back to the beginning of time. Every time a child is born his or her parents and relatives and friends stand around, in odd combinations of awe and worry and wonder asking, “What will this child grow up to be?”
As these days of Advent wane let’s pray that we may be more and more aware of our own place in the universe, what part we play in the God’s perfect plan, and how we ourselves are one step closer to the Reign of God.
Adam Gopnick, New Yorker, 1/31/00.