We had a beautiful ceramic Nativity scene growing up. To this day, it is pulled out, dusted off every Christmas and carefully positioned in its place on the mantel. Although, it is no longer in its original pristine condition and I remember clearly the day I broke the camel. I, likely because I was paying little attention to the delicate objects before me and distracted by something else I felt more worth my time, amputated its poor little hoof. It was apparently a tragedy because my mom was devastated.
As a child, I never understood what the big deal was; I had missed the point of my mother’s frustration. I was a child, distracted by whims and cares, as children often are. I always hurried while decorating, never wanting to stop and look at the beauty in certain objects or what they represent. The Nativity scene went up quickly, it felt more like a platitude. Sure, it might even be why we celebrate Christmas, but I never quite understood the fullness of it or received joy from it.
I realize now that just as I was with the Nativity scene in my childhood home, aloof and careless, fast and heedless, I am today with the advent passages of the Christmas season. I am so distracted by the hustle and bustle, preoccupied with the next thing I must do. I become easily frustrated with my inability to slow down and take in the reality of what is transpiring in these passages. In haste, I end up choosing the quicker shorter route of disbelief and misunderstanding, which produces less joy and more cynicism.
I often fail to grasp the full weight of what is happening. It seems beyond the reach of my reality or conception. Angels, in real life, singing “Glory to God in the Highest” and proclaiming the Messiah has come. It all seems a bit outlandish.
Perhaps I lack the imagination and understanding to realize the importance of that scene, the grandeur of it all. I lack the fortitude needed to have faith that this really happened, that it wasn’t just a nice picture in a storybook.
God incarnate, Jesus, left his Spirit that we might be in Heaven’s midst; we must only pause long enough to notice it, to take it in. Heaven is here, even now!
I was speaking with a friend about what Heaven on earth looks like in this era. To what can it be compared? I desperately wanted to make it seem more relevant, more palatable. Because that’s what we do right? We read the Bible, like a piece of old literature, trying to make it relevant for today. We want to be able to feel what Luke may have been feeling while writing this or what the Shepherds would have been experiencing. So we grasp at our experiences today in order to try and fill that disconnect.
My friend responded to my grasping at straws by saying that there is nothing to compare this to. When the angels burst into that Bethlehem night sky, God hadn’t spoken for four hundred years: of course, this is going to be incomparable. The Messiah long awaited had just been born, and a little bit of pomp and circumstance was gonna happen.
Oddly, this made me a little uncomfortable. There has to be something like it, something I can relate it to, so I can feel something, have a reaction; the disconnect was overwhelming.
The thing is, God had been silent for 400 years, which is about 33 generations. Imagine with me what it would be like for your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents, and your great great great grandparents, and so on and so forth, to have never heard from God. To have remained faithful for hundreds of years, and to have passed down that faithfulness through the generations. Yet never to have seen the fruits of that labour, of all that waiting.
It was in this meditation that something began to shift within me. The more I thought about the reality of what was going on on that clear night while the Shepherds were keeping watch over their flock, the greater my understanding of the weightiness of this scene Luke had painted for us. The very Divine Creator of all things, who had lead the Israelites out of slavery and brought them out of exile, had come to earth as a baby in a manger.
THIS. IS. BIG!
Of course, there is going to be nothing to compare it to. God, came into our world, the world that He made, to bring Heaven down to earth. To bring grace, and peace, and hope to a world in desperate need. GOD CAME DOWN. After all the waiting, all the faithfulness, and much anticipation, He had finally come. So in the middle of what seemed like an ordinary night, Angels came to Praise God for his faithfulness in bringing the Saviour Israel had long awaited for. This was a moment pregnant with unadulterated Joy,
When I stop long enough to take it all in, to allow the Spirit to stir my imagination, I am filled with a new awe, which leads to an overflow of joy. By slowing down, I am able to move through the fear, disconnect, and disbelief – just as the Shepherds first felt – to join in with the praises of the Angels. In this, I let go of the need to find a comparative experience today because I see more clearly the purpose of this all.
God was among us, in flesh and bone. The change of an era. And that was and is something to be celebrated with the most jubilant praises. God incarnate, Jesus, left his Spirit that we might be in Heaven’s midst; we must only pause long enough to notice it, to take it in. Heaven is here, even now!
So take the time to read the Luke 2:8-20, let it sink down deep. Read it once, twice, three times; as many as you need. Ask the Spirit to still your soul, to slow your mind, and spark your imagination, to give you Heavenly perspective. This is something worth slowing for, worth admiring, worth noticing the details, because if you move too fast, you may just miss Heaven on Earth, Jesus, Emmanuel, God now with us.
There were sheepherders camping in the neighbourhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.