Vol. 1, Issue 3
December 7, 2006


1) The spirit of Advent
2) History, Disaster, and the Heavens



The Advent season is an oddity in the cycles of the church year: celebration and penitence are strangely mixed together in the liturgical services and readings of the month before Christmas. During the first millenium of Christianity, the Roman church celebrated Advent with a festal spirit as looking forward to the coming of Christ. But the Gallic church (that of Gaul, or modern day France) kept Advent with a penitential spirit as remembering the sins of the world which necessitated the First Coming, and the judgment with which all must reckon at the Second Coming. Around the turn of the millenium, however, the two attitudes began to blend; and now we keep Advent with both ideas in mind, which to many seems most appropriate: at least in this life celebration is always tempered with the knowledge of the sin which will only be finally destroyed in the Restoration inaugurating the Great Christ-mass of Eternity.



In the Bible, signs in the heavens reflect catastrophes in the powers of the earth or in the spiritual realm. The prophet Joel predicts stars falling from the sky, and Peter says in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 that Joel's prophecy of the stars' falling was fulfilled that very day. No one in Peter's audience looked up at the sky and muttered, "I don't see any stars falling," because everyone understood apocalyptic imagery. The Magi saw the star foretold by Balaam in the book of Numbers and knew from studying the heavens that a King was born in Judea. No one in Herod's court thought *that* was weird - what upset Herod was the king bit, not the star bit. But - perhaps because of a well-founded caution concerning ungodly astrology, and perhaps because of the skepticism and even mockery of unbelieving science - we moderns have forgotten that the stars are still signs, as Genesis 1 says.

On July 4th in the year A.D. 1054 a supernova appeared in the daytime sky and was visible during the day for nearly a month; at night it was as brilliant as the full moon at first, and it continued to be visible for nearly two years. Astronomers say that its brilliance was four to six times greater than that of Venus and that it burned with the power of four hundred million of our suns; if it had been fifty light years distant from us (six times farther than Sirius, the brightest star climbing the east in mid-evening now) instead of thousands of light-years, its radiation would have destroyed all life on earth. The Chinese recorded its appearance, saying it had rays in all four directions and a reddish-white color. The Anasazi Indians of the American southwest made cave paintings (White Mesa and Navajo Canyon in Arizona; Chaco Canyon National Park in New Mexico) at the same time, depicting a star near a crescent moon - and on the morning of July 5, 1054, the crescent moon would have been just 2 degrees north of that new "star's" position in the sky.

Now look up the etymology of the word "disaster" - and then read on.

Exactly twelve days later, on July 16, the Eastern and Western branches of the the universal Christian church officially split when Cardinal Humbert, an (illegally acting) ambassador of the pope in Rome, stormed into Hagia Sophia, the greatest and most glorious church in Christendom, and slapped down a bull of excommunication on the altar in the middle of the Saturday afternoon mass, the culmination of centuries of tension building between Eastern and Western Christianity over a variety of issues. A terrified young deacon picked up the paper and ran after Humbert, begging him to take it back but he stomped off, dropping the bull in the dust. The Great Schism began that day, a schism in which each side, Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, leveled excommunications at each other that were not officially lifted for nearly one thousand years, until late in the twentieth century.

The star that suddenly exploded into a supernova, burning over the newly torn Christian world, left a remnant which to this day is called the Crab Nebula (M1 for astronomy types), visible in amateur telescopes just one degree northwest of Zeta Tauri, the star marking the tip of the southern horn of Taurus, the Bull, one of the constellations of the zodiac. To see the spot, go outside in mid-evening and find Orion. Trace a line through his belt up and to the right. The line will strike Aldebaran, the bright star in Taurus's forehead (a small V of stars with the open end pointing to the left), and if you continue the line, you'll hit the lovely and rather fuzzy Pleiades nearly overhead. Run your line the other direction through Orion's belt, down and to the left, and you'll hit Sirius, the brightest star in all the heavens, low in the southeast. Now, go back to the Pleiades and follow the line down to Aldebaran, then go off to the left at a right angle about the same distance as Aldebaran is from the Pleiades, and you'll strike Beta Tauri, the tip of the northern horn of Taurus. Now go about a third of the distance from Beta Tauri down toward Betelgeuse, the bright star marking Orion's upper left shoulder, and you'll find Zeta Tauri, the tip of the southern horn of Taurus. Got it? The Crab Nebula is one degree back toward Beta (about the width of your finger when your arm is outstretched).

You won't see the Nebula with your naked eye, but you can mark the spot where the Heavens flared in anger, and continues to carry a scar, over what never should have happened: a great breach in Christ's church on the earth beneath.