Advent Antiphons in a Sci-Fi Key: December 23 – Emmanuel

December 23, 2014

Arguably the most iconic “birth scene” in science fiction is the appearance of the Star Child in the closing moments of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Astronaut Dave Bowman is whisked through a kaleidoscopic, psychedelic wormhole to what looks like a luxury hotel suite on the far side of time-space. Once there, he rapidly ages until, at the moment of what should be his death, an enigmatic Monolith shows itself.

Exactly what happens next and what it means have fueled nearly fifty years’ of debate, but it seems to me this Monolith, as its counterpart on prehistoric Earth did for our ape-like ancestors, triggers an evolutionary leap for Bowman, essentially “birthing” him into the human race’s next state of existence.

In Clarke’s novel (written concurrently with the film’s production), we are given insight into the Star Child’s thoughts. After he detonates the nuclear missiles a panicked Earth has fired in his direction, he waits, “marshaling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers. For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something.”

The Star Child represents the apotheosis of humanity. Our frail and limited form of life has become supremely powerful and seemingly limitless, distant if not altogether divorced from humanity as we know it. It’s a visually beautiful scene, but not, to me, an especially heartening one.


I do appreciate how it speaks to our desire for transcendence, but I believe a different “Star Child” promises to fulfill that longing, not by accelerating our evolution, but by making us more fully like himself.  “The Son of God became man,” wrote Athanasius, “so that we might become God”—not that we cease being human, but that we become more and more like Jesus, who was uniquely fully human and fully divine. He is working this transformation in us by his Spirit even now (see 2 Corinthians 3.18), and one day he will bring it to perfection. We do not know exactly what we will be like, but “when he is revealed, we will be like him” (1 John 3.2).

And we will be children—not Star Children but, finally, the fully formed children of God we were created, and then by grace re-created, to be. Because God came to be with us in Jesus, we will one day be with God, and like God, forever.

O Emmanuel,

our Sovereign and Lawgiver,

desire of the nations and Savior of all:

Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Come, Lord Jesus!

 Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version. Antiphon texts from Book of Common Worship, © 1993 Westminster/John Knox Press.


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