Halley’s Comet And Christ’s Gospel
Many of you are kind enough to write to me with ideas for sermons. Sometimes, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I am able to transform those ideas into actual sermons, and sometimes I can’t. But whether a sermon results or not, I am grateful for your help. Today’s sermon is an example of what I am talking about. Last October, a young man in our congregation thrust a piece of paper into my hand which read: “Dear Dr. Edington, please do a sermon on Psalms number 8. It is my favorite chapter in the whole Bible. Sincerely, Tucker Herrin.” Well, Tucker Herrin, this sermon is for you…
It goes without saying that the return of Halley’s Comet has attracted a lot of attention. Numerous stories and articles in newspapers and magazines and on television have focused the world’s attention on this astronomical spectacular. Yet for all the hoopla, there is surrounding this comet something of awe and mystery.
The fact is that we know very little about comets. The word “comet” comes from the Greek “cometes” which means “hairy.” They saw the comets as being hairy stars! We at least know that that is not what comets are, but the truth is that we haven’t learned a whole lot more than the Greeks knew. For example, we do not know for sure where they originate. Some say they are portions of exploding stars. Others suggest that they are catapulted from the rim of the universe. But the whole subject is wrapped in mystery.
We do not even understand exactly what constitutes a comet. We know that Halley’s Comet is four miles in diameter, weighs 100 billion tons, and is traveling at 122,000 miles per hour; but we do not know what makes up the kernel, the nucleus of this celestial extravaganza. Most astronomers seem to think that comets are made up of ice surrounded by dust and gases, but there are other theories as well. We do not know for sure. So as Halley’s Comet circles our earth, we are studying it with every tool at our disposal, trying to unravel some of the mystery.
Now, you may be saying to yourself: “All that is well and good, but why would you bring Halley’s Comet into the pulpit today?” I can assure you it is not because I know more about comets than anyone else, nor is it because I wish to rehearse for you the ancient superstitions surrounding comets. No, rather it is because I see in the coming of Halley’s Comet certain moral implications of which we, as the people of God, need to be reminded.
The first implication is this—the comet reminds us of the perfection and the goodness of God.
We are able to chart the course of Halley’s Comet with absolute precision. We know that it will be closest to the sun (53 million miles) on February 9. We know that it will be closest to the earth (39 million miles) on April 11. We know that in parts of this country the best viewing will be in early April. And we know that this comet will return in 75 years. These things we know. And we know them because of the research of men like Capernicus and Galileo and Kepler and Newton and Halley. But these men based their conclusions upon one central fact: the universe is an ordered whole which moves in accord with established laws, never deviating from those laws. The perfection of that order speaks to us of the perfection of God. Our earth is just the right distance from the sun to give it a liveable temperature range. The axis of the earth has just the right tilt to provide four seasons. The earth rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun at such precise speeds that we can set our watches and our calendars by it. All of that speaks of the perfect steadiness, the perfect certainty, the perfect surety of God. God is so constant and consistent and continuous that we have a tendency to forget that He is behind it all.
If you and I were God, I think we would make sure that people remembered us a little more regularly. We would have a public relations committee to get the word out. When we created a tree, we would hang a sign on it that said: “courtesy of God.” When we hung a star in the sky we would be sure the TV cameras were rolling to record the event. When we painted a sunset on the western horizon, we would be sure to sign our name in the lower right hand corner. But not so God. The faithfulness and the humility and the goodness of God is such that He continues the perfect order of His created universe without so much as a syllable uttered about Himself. And we become so dependent upon the order and so accustomed to it that it is easy for us to forget that He is behind it.
Then suddenly into our orbit of concern comes soaring Halley’s Comet so precisely on course, so precisely on time, so precisely where it is to be that it jolts us into remembering the perfection of God. It reminds us to say with the Psalmist: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth. When I look at Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast established; what is man that Thou art mindful of him?”
There is the wonderful little story about an atheistic physics professor who wrote on his blackboard: “God is nowhere.” The class recessed for lunch and when they returned, they discovered that some student had moved one letter in the sentence, “God is nowhere.” The “w” was moved to the left so that it read: “God is now here!” That’s what Halley’s Comet says to us. We become so accustomed to our dependence on the natural order of things that we are prone to say: “God is nowhere.” Then comes Halley’s Comet, so perfectly orbited in space that it tells us: “God is now here!”
We live in a universe. The word “uni” means “one.” One God did it all. One God fashioned it all. One God ordered it all. And He ordered it so perfectly, so precisely, so exactly, so beyond any deviation or error, that not one beat has been skipped and not one moment has been missed—so perfectly, so absolutely and infallibly, that we can predict today that 75 years from now Halley’s Comet will return. And it will—if Jesus does not come first. I say to you that the galaxies are nothing more than the sets in the rings on the fingers of God;and the stars are the glittering gems in those rings. Yes, Halley’s Comet speaks to us of the perfection of God.
The second implication is this; the comet reminds us that this is not a good world in which to be bad.
What I am saying is this: If Halley’s Comet speaks to us of the perfection of God, then that perfection is applicable not only to the natural law; but to the moral law as well. Just as that comet moves inevitably on the course God charted for it, so the moral dictates of God move irresistibly upon the course which He has dictated for them. And it is just as foolish to try to get away with violating God’s law or ignoring God’s will as it would be to stand in front of the comet and say “Stop! Turn right!” It won’t happen.
There was a fascinating television show a few years back. It depicted the world on the eve of the Third World War. The nations were poised with nuclear warheads armed and aimed. A brief truce had been declared because an inventor claimed to have developed a computer which, if the world’s knowledge could be fed into it, would provide the answer to the world’s problems and this nuclear disaster could be averted. So in New York at the United Nations the world’s scholars began feeding information into the computer. Every field of intellectual endeavor was included. Before long the computer began to print out the answer. A great hush of expectation fell over those present. The inventor picked up the sheet and began to read: “Thus says the Lord, your God; thou shalt have no other gods before Me, thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet.”
That is the ultimate and perfect moral law. That is the moral law which is as inevitable in its course as the comet which now hurtles above our heads. And to throw yourself against God’s law and God’s will for your life is to throw yourself against the movement of everything that is. Now I’m not suggesting to you that every evil act is immediately paid off with some kind of moral punishment or collapse. No. God does not pay His bills every Friday at five o’clock, but God does pay His bills. To put that another way: it is only when we obey God’s law in our lives, it is only when we center our lives around the pursuit of God’s will that we shall know the glory of becoming all that God wants us to be. So Halley’s Comet reminds me that this is not a good world in which to be bad.
One other implication: the comet reminds us that this is a good world in which to be good.
That is to say, if the comet speaks to us of the sustaining providence of God in the universe, then it also speaks to us of the sustaining providence of God in our lives. For it asserts that when we move in accord with the will of God, then we are moving through life in harmony with the Maker, the Sustainer of everything there is. The majesty and magnificence that belongs to the comet belongs to it because it moves in obedience to the plan of God. When we move in that same obedience, then the same splendor belongs to us.
In 1910, when Halley’s Comet last came, it was a source of great fear and terror. They sold pills so that you wouldn’t get sick from the dust in its tail. Some people went down into mine shafts to try to save themselves, for it was said that when the earth passed through the tail of the comet, there would be a great flash of flame and everything would be gone. There was a little boy living then named Howard Thurman. He grew up to be the greatest black preacher of this century. In a book called Jesus, The Disinherited, he tells about what happened when he was a boy and Halley’s Comet came. He had heard people talking about the terrible things that would happen when the comet came. One night his mother came into his room and wakened him and said, “Come out into the yard with me.” Sleepily he followed her out. When he looked up into the sky, the night sky was as bright as day, the tail of the comet filled the heavens. He began to tremble with both awe and fear. He said to his mother, who had her hand upon his shoulder: “What will happen if the comet falls out of the sky?” His mother didn’t answer. Fear building in his heart, he turned and looked up at his mother. He saw upon her face what he had seen only once before—that was the time when by mistake he had interrupted her when she was in prayer. There was a radiance and a light upon her face. His mother then said to him: “Do not fear, Howard, for God will take care of us.” Thurman goes on to say that in the course of his life, when he suffered much because he was black and when he suffered much because he was Christian, the thing that held him to the mark, the thing that kept him moving toward the fulfillment of God’s will in his life, the thing that built into his character the fibers and tendons of strength that kept him true was the knowledge that what his mother said that night was right. When you move in accord with the will of God in your life, you have nothing to fear. He will take care of you.
Jesus is the perfect illustration of that. The world cried out: “Give us Barabbas!” But Jesus, always looking toward His heavenly Father, heard His Father say: “But I choose you.” The world knelt at the feet of Pontius Pilate, but God said to Jesus, “I choose you.” The world hurled a cross into the face of God and thought they had done with Him. But as always God had the last laugh. God had the last word. That word was Resurrection. That word was Victory. That word was Power. And that is the word He has for you and for me when we seek to live and to move and to have our being in the pursuit of the moral perfection we see in His Son.
Try if you can, to catch a glimpse of Halley’s Comet between now and the Spring. And as you look at it, think of this. Think how it speaks to us of the perfection of God. Think how it announces to us the folly of seeking to frustrate that perfection. And think of how in all of its heavenly splendor it reminds us that God has made us—you and me—He has made us a little lower than the angels and He has crowned us with glory and honor through Jesus Christ…