Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Visited Planet

In 1957 J.B. Phillips, writer and Bible translator, wrote a short story entitled “The Visited Planet.”  Phillips imagined a tour of the universe by two angels, one as old as creation, and the other newly formed amidst the host of heaven.  The older angel showed off wonder upon wonder, the birthing fields of stars, nebulae thousands of light years across, distances and depths beyond imagining.  At length, as the attention of the young angel began to flag, they entered a back lot of the Milky Way, the galaxy that includes our sun.

As the two of them drew close to our star, and its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis.  It looked dull as a dirty tennis ball to the little angel whose mind was filled with the size and glory of all he had seen previously.

“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.

“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel.  “What’s special about that one?”

“That,” replied the senior solemnly, “is the Visited Planet.”

“Visited?” said the little one.  “You don’t mean visited by...”

“Indeed I do.  That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant and perhaps not overclean, has been visited by our young Prince of Glory.”  And at these words he bowed his head reverently.

“But how?” queried the younger one.  “Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendors of His Creation, and millions more that I ‘m sure I haven’t seen yet, went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball?  Why should He do a thing like that?”

“It isn’t for us,” said his senior a little stiffly, “to question His ‘whys,’ except that I must point out to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers as you seem to be.  But that He really went I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that.  As to why He became one of them...how else do you suppose He could visit them?”

The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust.

“Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”

“I do, and I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice.  For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them.  He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.

The little angel looked blank.  Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.”

Humans too, share the skepticism of the younger angel.  No matter what might have happened to our planet, some reason, we are but a speck of cosmic dust, easily expendable by human standards.  How can we imagine ourselves so valued by the Creator of all worlds as to be visited at such a cost?

It is in such reasoning that we demonstrate why we needed God’s visit.  “Not that we loved God, but that God loved us,” as St. John has it.

The human, and particularly the American perspective, that rates the importance of things by size and candlepower is confounded by the understanding of God, who knows the worth of quarks and protons, as well as that of suns and galaxies.  Why were the humans of planet earth worth the sacrifice of the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who was from before time itself?  We can only wonder, at least until the day when we see face-to-face.

For the present we open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to the proclamation that the Visit did indeed occur.  The ancient dreams and visions of gods walking about on earth, of dying and rising divinities, of sin cancelled in a great offering of love; all these hopes and dreams found a moment of fulfillment, and those with eyes to see and ears to hear rejoice and ponder it in their hearts.  May you find the fullness of the season and the blessings of our incarnate God.

Howard MacMullen
© December 2013
“The Visited Planet” was scheduled to be posted on Christmas Eve.  However, an ice storm earlier in the week shut off our electric power for 60 hours, and postponed the planned posting.
 “The Visited Planet” by J.B. Phillips in New Testament Christianity; 1957; MacMillan Publishing Co.; N.Y.
Excerpt used by permission.

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