November 30, 2022
In the Toy Story animated movies, one of the main characters, Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Tim Allen, is often heard to say, "to infinity and beyond." It is his signature clarion call, usually to rally the other toys on some challenging mission. I always find it interesting, if I think about it very long, that, while its primary purpose was to express humor, it also expresses a certain world-view, that is quite in keeping with Christianity. Imagine, if you will, as Rod Serling might say it, that we are able to transport ourselves "to infinity," as Buzz Lightyear proposes. When we get there, also imagine some sort of boundary, demarcating that we have arrived at "infinity." Whatever else you might be feeling at that point, most people, I find, will almost immediately ask, what is beyond?
We seem to possess an innate belief that no matter how far we go, there is always a "beyond" to explore. But, given that we are at "infinity" in our thought experiment, the "beyond" we believe exists, is something beyond that which can be perceived by our normal physical senses. I think it is this awareness that Paul referred to in
Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
When I was a much younger man, I was a youth group leader at my church at the time. Some of the teens in our group were being led to start a puppet ministry. They planned to use hand puppets to tell Bible stories to younger children, but they needed a stage. So a couple of us designed and built an elaborate hand puppet stage. It had a brightly lit front stage, and a dark back area for the puppeteers. But, since these puppets would also speak and react to the audience in real time, not just present prepared scripts, the puppeteers needed a way to see what the puppets "saw." Our solution was to install a one-way mirror at the back of the brightly-lit front stage. This enabled the puppeteers to look out and see the audience without being seen themselves. In my infinity thought experiment, I envision the aforementioned infinity boundary as being like that one-way mirror. Like the puppet show audience, all I can see is a bright reflection of myself and my reality. This reflection blinds me - such that I am unable to make out anything on the other side. Paul, once again alludes to this problem in
I Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as I am known.
If you have ever tried to see through a one-way mirror from the front, you will know there is only one way. And that is only when the back "dark" side becomes more brightly lit than the front. In the same way, in real life we can only begin to perceive what is beyond our current life, when a bright light originates from beyond. And when we first see that light from the beyond - maybe just a fine bright pinprick at the end of a dark tunnel - it gives us hope, because now we know there is something there, and not nothing. John reminds us that
I John 1:5 This is the message that we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
Beginning first in creation
Genesis 1:3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
then in the words of the prophets, followed by the light of the star in the east, heralding the arrival of Jesus, himself. God reached out from beyond the world, as we know it, to give us glimpses of the world beyond. Most of you reading these notes are old enough to remember the publication of the books of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. She interviewed people, who had technically died and then come back to life, and asked them to describe their experiences. Many people think it is no coincidence that so many of them described a sense of being unafraid and of seeing an enveloping bright light. On the other hand, I have a friend, who is an avid golfer. He tells the story that on one afternoon, while playing a country course, he sliced his drive and the ball went sailing out of bounds. When he got down near where his ball had gone out, he saw it lying in the farmer's pasture, that ran along the fairway of this particular hole. He went to climb through the fence to retrieve his ball, but then everything went black. It turned out that the fence was electrified and packed quite a punch! He does not remember how long he was out, but he does remember that he did not see a white light. Instead, it was just complete blackness and it bothered him. He chose to interpret this event as a sign that a life change was in order. So, he went back to school and is now, some years later, a Christian pastor at a small church in central Vermont. It is Advent now and the first traditional candle is one for hope. It can cause us to reflect on three aspects of Scriptural hope.
The first is to commemorate the original hope for a Messiah, as foretold by the prophets. In fact some traditions will label the first Advent candle, the Prophesy candle. (Isaiah 11:1)
The second is to look forward in new hope for when Christ will come again (I Thessalonians 4:16)
The third is to celebrate God's light from the beyond, that is Jesus, giving us a glimpse into His world and a basis for hope for an eternal life to come in His presence.
John 1:4-5 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
I believe the fact, that God would reach out with His Son to show us what we could not see without His help, is one of the reasons Paul was able to write
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy, and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit
As you participate in the various events of the season with family and friends, I would remind you, as Peter would have,
I Peter 3:15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
The reason for the hope that I have, has a name. It is Jesus! Your Brother in Christ, Warren Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester