The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is one of the most famous photographs ever taken.
For a few months in 2003-2004, the Hubble Space Telescope zoomed in on a seemingly blank, small spot in the sky, inside the constellation Fornax. To the naked eye it looked like a speck of black emptiness. But once developed, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image showed that inside that small, randomly selected patch of sky, over 10,000 galaxies could be seen.
Ten. Thousand. Galaxies.
Take a look below. The colorful objects you see are not stars. They are galaxies, some more than 13 billion light years away from earth. You are looking back in time, and this is only one tiny, tiny, perceivable part of the universe.
“The image is only one-forty millionth of the sky,” said Dr. Edward J. Weiler, former chief scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope, at a 2015 presentation at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “In other words, it would take 40 million Hubble Ultra-Deep Fields to cover the entire sky. If you wanted a human analogy, go out on a clear night, get a standard sewing needle, hold it up at arm’s length and look at the hole in the sewing needle. That’s the size of the sky you’re seeing portrayed here.”
The scale of this is mind-boggling. Look up at the stars on a clear night and ponder the vastness of it all—that even in the seemingly “in between spaces” of the sky, there are 10,000 galaxies or more. It’s all so unimaginably big.
But at Advent we also celebrate something unimaginably small. The Magi saw a star in the sky and it led them to a child in Bethlehem. And that is where our stargazing should lead too.
As we consider the heavens, we ponder the mind-boggling notion that the God who crafted and who controls this vast universe—and its innumerable galaxies and stars and planets (of which earth is but one)—took on flesh in the tiniest of forms.
Before he was the man Jesus, he was an infant in a manger.
Before he was an infant in a manger, he was a fetus in Mary’s womb.
He was once the size of an avocado (16 weeks old), a kumquat (10 weeks), a lentil (6 weeks), a poppy seed (4 weeks).
He was once just a collection of cells as wide as a single strand of hair.
This is God we’re talking about; the one whose handiwork on display in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image is just a single brushstroke on his canvas of creation.
And just as the stars above punctuate the darkness with glistening light and (in the case of our sun) and life-giving energy, so too does the incarnation—God with us—bring light to the darkness.
As Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
As above, so below: We can look at the darkness and see nothing, or we can look more closely—as the Hubble telescope does—and see the great light. Infinitely bigger and brighter than we could ever conceive.