In a piece earlier this year in The Atlantic, Adam Frank asserts that the whole universe is humming all around us. And then he asks the question any of us might upon receiving this revelation, “Now what?” In his article about gravitational ripples through time and space, he describes the work of the NANOGrav team, a team of astronomers making up the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves. Those are words I don’t normally string together in my every day, let alone in a sermon, so bear with me!
For fifteen years, these scientists have studied their machines and data to prove, as Frank says, “that something miraculous—something wonderful—is happening right under our noses.” The belief is that “Every star, every planet, every continent, every building, every person is vibrating along to the slow cosmic beat.” Through research conducted over the course of a decade and a half, the team found that every proton and neutron in every atom, inside of each one of us and inside of everything is, as they described it, “shifting, shuttling, and vibrating in a collective purr within which the entire history of the universe is implicated. And if you put your hand down on a chair or table or anything else nearby, that object, too, is dancing that slow waltz.”
Okay, I know we all want to do it, to reach out and put our hand on the nearest object.
If we place our hands down on the pew supporting us, or the couch or chair wherever you are on the livestream, you won’t be able to feel any vibrations you haven’t felt before, but in knowing this about the design of the world, it changes the way we understand and feel the world and our place in it, if we allow ourselves to ponder this curiosity, this revelation.
What if we allowed ourselves to be amazed by the slow cosmic beat of all of creation?
As Frank says in his article, “All of a sudden, we know that we are humming in tune with the entire universe, that each of us contains the signature of everything that has ever been. It’s all within us, around us, pushing us to and fro as we hurtle through the cosmos…Go outside, if you can, and watch the wind blow through the trees. Perhaps the experience will be different now that you know how the rhythm of giant black holes in distant galaxies also beat out a time in the trees’ gentle swaying.”
Frank’s conclusion from examining the results of years of research by experts on gravitational-wave background is that the universe is a “vast symphony,” and this is a reminder “that the world always has been, and always will be, worthy of wonder. But of course,” he says, “you already knew that. You always have.”
Wonder and amazement are within and around, down to every atom, neutron, and proton, there is nothing that doesn’t contain it, and it has been true from the beginning of time, when God created the heavens and the earth, when in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It has been true through the proclamations of the prophets, through Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and through each of our lives, up to and including this moment and in this space of worship together. Wonder and amazement are within and around a weary world and a weary people, worthy of our attention to it.
Each week in Advent, we have been asking the question in worship, “How does a weary world rejoice?” And each week, it feels like the news gets heavier and harder. One Sunday to the next may only add to weariness on top of weariness, and challenges the notions of joy, connection, and hope in such a time as this. And yet, that is what we hold onto in this season of the church and as people of faith. It is the radical nature of God’s incarnate love, the seeming impossibility of such love, that we celebrate, that we know is coming.
So, today we ask the question again, “How does a weary world rejoice? This morning we will explore what might happen if we allow ourselves to be amazed. In making that allowance, we may find just the balm we need for our weariness, just the awakening to call us forth from our numbness, and just the gift that leads to renewal, all of which might turn into joy.
With all that is going on in the world, it may seem impossible or even inappropriate to be amazed and to rejoice. Yet, knowing the care and beauty with which God has designed the biggest and smallest pieces of creation, how can we not? This is the paradox of Advent, perhaps this year more than ever. The darkness and power of empire and occupation, the reality of displaced and fearful individuals and families, children born into violent authority, is as real today as it was in Jesus’ time.
And yet God has given us a sign and the promise that the darkness cannot overcome the light.
Psalm 126 emphasizes for us that whenever we are amazed, things happen and we can find a way to rejoice, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced” (Psalm 126:3). Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy, and those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, will come home with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:6). This is a community bearing vulnerability and weariness, crying out as they plant seeds in a drought with their own tears as the only signs of water. And yet, the Psalmist tells us that they have every reason to believe in wonder and amazement, as they sow with tears and with hope.
Luke’s Gospel emphasizes amazement, along with joy and wonder, while telling the birth story of Christ, but we are 66 verses into the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and there has been hardly a mention of Jesus yet. There is amazement in Luke’s Gospel well before we get to Jesus’ birth. The neighbors of the Judean hill country who gather at the time of John’s birth are amazed and filled with awe. The Greek word for amaze and awe here can also be translated as “to celebrate God’s grace together.” It is that joy connection we focused on last week, turning to awe and wonder, joining us in celebrating God’s grace as community.
Sharon Salzberg describes awe as “the absence of preoccupation.” We can allow ourselves to be amazed when we open ourselves to receiving what God will offer us. Zechariah made this transition, going from being critical and preoccupied with himself to trusting in God and the promise from the angel Gabriel, and his speech is restored, and the community joins with him and Elizabeth in celebrating God’s grace in John’s birth. The people understand the releasing of Zechariah’s voice as a miracle and their amazement leads to curiosity and praise.
It feels significant that both Zechariah and Elizabeth play a role in John’s naming and that they are surrounded by community when they do so, though I struggle with the fact that the community needed to hear Zechariah affirm the name and that they didn’t just accept it automatically from Elizabeth. As foretold by the angel Gabriel, Zechariah’s speech is restored, and the people are in awe.
Just as Adam Frank asks, “Now what?” following the realization that the whole universe is humming, so, too, do all who heard Zechariah speak again. Awe came over all the neighbors and the whole hill country of Judea, and together they all asked essentially, “Now what?” All who heard asked in their amazement, “What then will become of this child?” And we might ask, “What will become of this time, this paradox of Advent into which we are waiting for God’s love to be born?”
Madeleine L’Engle’s poem First Coming seems to describe a time like now, which is not anywhere near the perfect time that is the fulfillment of God’s hope for the world, but a time of uneasy darkness and weary waiting.
God did not wait till the world was ready,
till…nations were at peace.
God came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
God did not wait for the perfect time.
God came when the need was deep and great.
God dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. God did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy God came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
God came, and God’s Light would not go out.
God came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
In a world that makes us weary, it can be hard to rejoice, to find connection, and amazement, but as we go out into the broken world that is also humming, purring, and wonder-filled, may we be amazed that God does not wait. May we be amazed by this thing God is about to do in a weary and tarnished world, when the need is so great, when the stakes are so high, and may we commit in action and in prayer as a response to the question “What will become of this?”
 Adam Frank, “Scientists Found Ripples in Space and Time. And You Have to Buy Groceries,” in The Atlantic, June 29, 2023, obtained online at: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2023/06/universe-gravitational-waves-nanograv-discovery/674570/, November 18, 2023.
 Quote from “A Sanctified Art” Advent Worship Planning Series.
 Madeleine L’Engle, First Coming, obtained online: https://theadventusproject.wordpress.com/resources/poetry/madeleine-lengle-first-coming/, December 8, 2023.