Don’t Look Up and an Atmosphere for Epiphany

January 6, 2022

This year I am experiencing Epiphany just after viewing the feature film Don’t Look Up. While there are a couple of spoilers regarding the Biblical story of Epiphany in Matthew, I’ll try to steer away from ruining the movie for those that have not watched it.  

Epiphany is observed within the Christian Tradition on January 6th. The biblical account of Epiphany follows the story of the child Jesus through the eyes of astronomers or Magi (wise people) from the East. The wise ones used science and observation to follow a sign in the sky “we observed his star at its rising.” These foreigners were summoned by the powerful King Herod to ask about the location of Jesus and were promptly and covertly co-opted into a desperate plan to retain power by the frightened king.  “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word.”

The account in the Gospel of Matthew reveals that the Magi followed a star and eventually found Jesus. They were overwhelmed with joy and offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A dream helped them go to their home country by another path avoiding Herod and unwittingly breaking free from his desperate greed, arrogance, and violence.  Matthew wrote that messages from God through dreams instructed Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus, to escape Herod as he corrupted the hearts of his citizens and severed the lives of the young. Eventually, when it was safe, God sent messages through dreams to Joseph to find his way to Nazareth.

Epiphany is now marked by symbols of gifts and stars, is a season of new awareness. The Magi seemed to understand the science of the atmosphere and beyond to the stars. These foreign astronomers practiced a wisdom that combined science, faith, and relationship.     

Many of us are seeking wisdom and faith as we react to the climate crisis and may find a connection in the Epiphany story: resistance, resilience, and joy, even while in the midst of corruption and chaos. The asteroid disaster movie Don’t Look Up effectively illustrates the heavy wet blanket of climate change and the political, scientific, social, technological and economic threads that are woven within the crisis.

The central characters in Don’t Look Up, were played by Leonardo De Caprio and Jennifer Lawrence. Through scientific methods, observation and peer-reviewed work, the star-studded cast discovered a comet heading toward earth and sought to share the truth about what they saw in the sky. I won’t reveal too many details in order to preserve the plot for those still yet to see it, but I can write that the film resonated for me as a Christian, a citizen of the United States, as a consumer of technology and products and as someone who is working (as are many of you) toward climate solutions. It is both a painful and beautiful film to watch.

In the story, there is greed and corruption, a quest for power, arrogance, ignorance, and fear.  And yet there is humanity redeemed for moments, finding epiphany in the complexity of the star-filled night sky and in the simplicity of sharing a meal around a kitchen table. There are reluctant heroes who, in the end, are noncompliant to the flow of corruption, who seek both truth and faith, who listen to their dreams, to one another, and to science. Kind of like the Magi.

On this day, especially on this day, when we remember the corruption and desperate violence of kings, may we find our way home by another path.  Perhaps together we can be curious, faithful, generous, wise, and loving as we remain faithful in this good and difficult work.

~Scott Hardin-Nieri- Epiphany 2022 (photo credit, Don Schutt)