Liturgical Year Movies

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

The end of “2001: A Space Odyssey” speaks to our desire for transcedence. Christ promises to help us not transcend but fully realize our humanity.

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations, and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

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 decades of debate. I think 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.

Christ Became Like Us That We Might Become Like Him

I do appreciate how the final scene of 2001 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.

Christ 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.

How have you grown as a child of God in your life to this point? How is Christ calling you to become more like him this Advent?

Scripture quotations are NRSVUE. Antiphon texts are from The Advent Antiphons by A.C.A. Hall, 1914 ( A version of this post first appeared on The Sci-Fi Christian, December 23, 2014.

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