Here we are in the Advent season and I’ve been thinking mostly about the resurrection. Nevertheless, spending my mental time there has brought me back around to the Christmas story.
Among Western Christians, there’s a common misunderstanding of the relationship between heaven and earth. Typically, we set heaven in a far place, rather distant from the earth, literally and spatially. Wherever heaven might be, we imagine, it must be way up there, beyond the clouds and beyond the moon, we’d have to say because we’ve sent people there. And of course it must now be quite farther away than we originally thought because the Hubble has taken pictures of things pretty far away in space and none of those places seem to be heaven.
According to the biblical witness, however, heaven is not spatially distant, though it may be figuratively so. It’s an invisible realm, certainly, but it may best be thought as occupying the same space as the physical realm, like a transparency overlay, invisible to most.
But this isn’t what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the Advent, the incarnation of the Christ, and the implications of the resurrection. In another 200 words.
Among the miracles of the Christmas story is the very fact of the incarnation. There, in this child Jesus, heaven and earth were joined, and the fortunate ones of Galilee and Jerusalem in the first century were able to witness the intersection first hand. It had the appearance of hope, of health, of joy, of compassion. Those who saw Jesus observed heaven come to earth.
This is what it means to believe in Jesus. It means to live as he lived, to live after his manner. Of course, included in this is the individual reception of his Spirit, which now, on the other side of the resurrection, allows every Christian to live simultaneously in both heaven and earth, to walk in both layers of reality. Jesus had famously taught his disciples to pray after him, that the Father’s kingdom might come to earth, that God’s governance of heaven might be likewise effective on earth. This is the hope of all the world, that heaven will one day come to earth.
The foretaste broke into the world through a small Palestinian child in a backwoods town in the midst of sheep and goats. The fullness will be realized when that child, now glorified and seated in heaven, returns. In the meantime, however, heaven continues to break into the earth through every last believer. Indeed, it comes through you.