Imagine that you opened the first door of your Advent calendar and found this secret message, put in the calendar long ago especially for you. It would seem strange, would it not? A message in a calendar? But the Advent calendar tells a story that begins long, long ago—and it begins with a message in a calendar.
God does not use a calendar, because God does not use time. He is eternal, which means that he does not live in seconds and minutes and hours and days and months and years. But he wanted to give his life to men, who do live in time, so when he prepared a world for men the first thing he made was a calendar.
To begin, he sent balls of exploding gas in every direction. It doesn’t sound like the beginning of a calendar, does it? But the stars and rocks and ice chunks flying out in all directions were soon so far apart that, even though they kept on moving at a terrifying speed forever, they would look to anyone watching as though they were standing still.
But things flying apart was only half of the plan. Because God made the world with love, everything he made is full of love, so all the stars and rocks and chunks were attracted to each other by a kind of love. The big ball of rock which was our future home loved one special star, which we call the sun, and fell into circling around the sun instead of flying away from it. With the far distant stars and the sun, God planned a calendar that would mark the seasons and the years. At the same time, a smaller ball of rock began circling in love around our home, and this smaller ball, which we call the moon, divided years into months. To perfect the calendar, God caused our home to spin perpetually, and the round-and-round spinning of our home divided the months into days.
But there were still no men. In fact, nothing was alive anywhere in the enormous calendar God had prepared for us. Long, long before even the tiniest speck of a plant began to grow for our food, God added one more detail to his calendar: at just the right moment, in a place so far away that it has no name, a single, shuddering, giant red star died. The death of a star so big and so ancient was not a quiet thing. It was an explosion of light and glory a million times bigger than our world, and it sent its light flying faster than anything in the universe toward our home. This light was a message to men.
The light shot past stars and planets and asteroids, when nothing was alive. But the star that died was so very far away that its light went on and on for thousands and millions of years without reaching our home. God made the plants and the animals, and still the light flew on. God made our first parents, Adam and Eve, and still the light came, faster than the speed of thought. Our first parents turned away from God and caused the first great sadness in the world, and still the light hurtled madly past galaxies and solar systems. The hearts of men grew colder than the icy asteroids, and men began to worship the great calendar God had made for them, and still the light from the long-dead star came on like a lightning bolt. God called Abraham, and led Abraham’s children out of Egypt, and made the shepherd David king, and still the message flew. The kings of Israel turned away from God, the hearts of the children of Israel grew colder than Pluto, and the nations came and carried away God’s chosen people, and still the light winged its way silently through distances so huge we cannot imagine them. While good men sighed and wondered when the darkness of this sad world would see a dawn, a woman was born as glorious the star that rises before the sun, and the light blazed past the outer reaches of our solar system.
One night, while calendar makers watched the sky to write down the years and the seasons and the months and the days, the light of that long-dead star blazed through the atmosphere of our planet and lit up the night sky. On a rooftop in a faraway land to the east, a scholar recorded the new light on a roll of parchment. He descended from the rooftop and carried his scroll through dark alleys to another house, where two calendar makers sat waiting in a room lit by candles.
“A new star has appeared,” he announced, unrolling his parchment. The two wise men thought for several minutes before one of them spoke: “The heavens are eternal and unchanging: in all my days, never have I seen birth or death in the heavens. Where in the sky is this new-born star?” The first scholar replied, “In the sign of the virgin. My friends, this is the message we expected; we must prepare for our journey.”
A message put in a calendar long ago, especially for these men to see? A wonder of heaven whose death looks like a birth? A light long awaited and finally come to our world? It is a strange beginning to an astonishing story—the story of the epiphany of God.