EVERYBODY LOVES A GOOD FIREWORKS SHOW. They are a glorious, if ephemeral, art form. A fourth of July celebration is never complete without one. In the middle of April in Louisville, Kentucky, every year there is another enormous fireworks show two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, to kick off the “Kentucky Derby Festival”. Always one of the largest annual pyrotechnic displays in the country, the show launches over 50,000 exploding shells into the night sky in only 30 minutes. For this short but spectacular show the Zambelli Fireworks company spends months in preparation.
ON JULY 4TH IN A.D. 1054, A NEW “GUEST STAR” WAS OBSERVED in the sky, in the constellation Taurus, by Chinese astronomers. So bright was this object that is was visible during the day for nearly a month and visible at night for over a year and a half. Modern astronomers now know that this “new star” was actually the death of an old one—the massive explosion of a star literally blowing itself apart, called a supernova. This supernova occurred 6,500 light years away, within our own Milky Way galaxy, meaning it had actually exploded 6,500 years before it was first observed on Earth. 960 years later this star-burst shell is still expanding as the Crab Nebula.
THE BEGINNINGS OF STARS can be as beautiful and “ah” inspiring as their endings. Star Forming Region S106, 2000 light years away and the Orion Nebula, 1300 light years away, are nebulae where new stars are being born.
LOOKING FARTHER—much farther—out into the vastness of space, the universe is filled with the fireworks of galactic pinwheels. The Andromeda Galaxy, our close neighbor at 2 ½ million light years, and the Whirlpool Galaxy at 37 million light years, are beautiful spiral galaxies whose rotational arms enfold billions of stars. There are billions of galaxies in the universe (Here is a good site to see some of them: http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/galaxy/spiral/npp/all/).
All galaxies rotate, very slowly from our perspective—just once every couple of hundred million years. Stars form slowly, over millions of years. The whole vast universe was brought into being nearly 14 billion years ago. The eye of man is too fleeting to catch these fireworks of heaven, but not the eye of their Creator. Time, space, and matter, and the laws of the physical universe, came into existence at the will and word of God, and they react, arrange and rearrange according to the fixed decrees of God, in the fantastic unfolding of creation.
FOR GOD’S OWN DELIGHT the fireworks of the expanding universe have unfolded for 14 billion years, spinning out the Crab and Orion, the Whirlpool, Andromeda and the Milky Way, the rings of Saturn and the planet Earth. Imagine if the entire history of the universe were compressed into the space of a 30 minute Zambelli extravaganza! A bit less than 1 ten millionth of a second would represent one year of a fantastic display of starbursts, spinning galactic pinwheels, and a rainbow palette of nebulae. Reason enough, perhaps, for a universe.
BUT BEYOND BEAUTY AND GREATER THAN GLORY, the creation of the cosmos reveals the unfolding love of God. We inhabit a small island in a vast sea of galaxies and stars; the Earth, and all the planets wandering the cosmos, are the cinders left over from the ongoing fireworks of cosmic history. We have arrived in the late third of the life of the universe. The first two thirds were arranged to bring us here.
It can sound as hubris to say that the entire unfolding of the material world was intended to produce one small rocky planet orbiting a rather ordinary star. But we are not great. We are beloved. And our Lover has built us a home. Even atheists have remarked that the Earth and the cosmos that ebbs and floods against its shores look like a fix-up job; imagined, planned, and constructed so that we and the little corner of the world we inhabit can be here, now. The universe is just so, seemingly poised on the edge of chaos. If any of the hundred sets of initial conditions of creation were altered slightly, neither we nor our planet could have existed. Who are we that God is mindful of us? We are the children of an artful, beautiful, and loving Creator.