Heaven and Nature Sing

We like to think of heaven, at least subconsciously, as being “up.”

After all, that’s the direction Jesus went when he ascended into heaven, right? He was “taken up” and his students were left with their mouths hanging open, “gazing up into heaven.”

But that’s not all of the story. In fact, that misses a central plotline in the story.

When Jesus came to earth (down to earth?) it was a miraculous moment because heaven — the vast, unreachable heaven, was colliding with earth. It was a collision which had occurred only a few times ever before, and never lasted long. This time would be different, though: this time, heaven would remain on earth.

Jesus came to institute the kingdom of heaven on earth. That’s the narrative of the good news stories written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He didn’t come to whisk people away to some far off land, or to make us pine for a place we couldn’t yet be.

He taught us to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He taught us that heaven was like yeast, slowly working its way through a batch of dough. He taught us heaven grows on earth like a plant grows from a seed.

In other words, heaven on earth started small, with the birth of a baby boy, and now it continues to grow, to work its way through a weary world. It grows and spreads with every decision we make to bring life instead of death, love instead of hate, peace instead of war.

And it grows and spreads by the power of heaven’s King even while we sleep or do nothing or screw up.

This advent season, look around you. You’ll see lots of pain, brokenness, injustice, and hurt. These are opportunities to grow and spread heaven on earth. And look around you some more. You’ll also see lots of joy, love, peace, and hope. These are evidences of the truth: when Jesus ascended, he left heaven here on earth for us.

If you’re looking for heaven this holiday season, don’t look up — look around you.

Getting it Wrong

I was struck with an incredibly humbling thought this afternoon while reflecting on advent.

When Jesus came to earth in the familiar Christmas scene as a baby in swaddling clothes, almost nobody expected it.

Why not?

The religious leaders thought they knew what the Messiah would be all about. They interpreted scripture in a way that pointed to a king, a political ruler, a revolutionary who would end the oppression of Rome and – finally! – grant Israel freedom and peace.

Their history colored their interpretation. God’s people had been subject to oppression and slavery for most of their existence. (And for the rest of their existence they had been embroiled in a bloody civil war.) The prophet Daniel foresaw a Kingdom of God which would come about during the reign of the Roman Empire. The prophet Isaiah said “the government would be on his shoulders”. What the people wanted, needed, was a removal of Rome and the advent of God.

Instead, they got a baby.

Only it wasn’t “instead”. Not really. Because that baby was exactly what the people wanted and needed: freedom. Peace. A way out of oppression. A way forward.

They just couldn’t see it because the religious leaders had interpreted things through one particular lens while God was operating in an entirely different way.

The shepherds – furthest removed from educated leaders – did see it. They saw it because they had a personal experience with God and his messengers that led them to a different interpretation of their story. Essentially, the mission the angels gave the shepherds was: go tell everyone the religious leaders are barking up the wrong tree.

It’s a mission that Jesus himself continued throughout his life.

And yet, today when we stack personal experience against educated, conventional theology we err on the side of mistaken religious leaders time and time again.

This advent, may we remember and be humbled: Sometimes religious leaders, with all our educated theological interpretations, can still be so very wrong.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come

Those were the last words I taught at Emmaus, delivered this morning at the end of my last sermon. And they were very purposeful.

Emmaus is one of the few non-mainline churches I know that celebrates the liturgical season of advent, and I love it. The main theme of advent the way I understand it is expectant hope – hope of the coming of Immanuel, God with us. We imagine what it was like for the ancient Jewish people to wait for hundreds or even thousands of years for God to come… we wait for God to come and reveal himself in our lives today… and we wait for God to return once again and bring with him the complete restoration of his creation.

That’s the end that all of Scripture and all of human history is marching toward. Hebrew stories tell of the time when God created the heavens and the earth, looked at it all, and proclaimed it “good.” After creating man and woman, he increased the verdict to “very good.”

The ancient Hebrews called this state of very-goodness shalom – a word that gets translated into English as “peace.” But for the Hebrews it took on a much richer meaning: wholeness, rest, completeness, balance, harmony, perfection. Upon creation, the world was soaked in shalom.

But then the very good creatures that God had created shattered the very peace and wholeness they were designed to enjoy. Ever since then, God has been working to restore his creation to the original state he intended – and (here’s the surprising thing) using those once-very good creatures to do it.

That restoration began in force when Jesus – in a great unknowable mystery both the very Son of God and God himself – made his dwelling among us, as one of his early followers would come to write. In Jesus, God put the hope of not only humankind but of creationkind as he did what no created being could ever do: live a life completely filled with values of the Kingdom of God.

So… come, Lord Jesus, come is the cry of our hearts when we see things that are not the way they were meant to be. When we see injustice, pain, suffering, hurt, broken relationships, whether we recognize it as such or not, the very depths of our souls are crying, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

Why end my final teaching at Emmaus with those words? For several reasons. This advent season, those words are the cry of my heart as I am expectantly and nervously waiting for God to come and show us what is next in our lives. Those words are appropriate words for the church body of Emmaus Road as they head into a time of trying to define who they are and what direction they will be going and seek restoration themselves. Those words resonate with so many during the holidays when pain can be magnified. And they are the words with which John, one of Jesus’ followers, ends what became the final book of our Bible:

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, come.” (Revelation 22:20)

This advent season, I invite you to celebrate the birth of Jesus (God With Us), and everything that birth means. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come

Those were the last words I taught at Emmaus, delivered this morning at the end of my last sermon. And they were very purposeful.

Emmaus is one of the few non-mainline churches I know that celebrates the liturgical season of advent, and I love it. The main theme of advent the way I understand it is expectant hope – hope of the coming of Immanuel, God with us. We imagine what it was like for the ancient Jewish people to wait for hundreds or even thousands of years for God to come… we wait for God to come and reveal himself in our lives today… and we wait for God to return once again and bring with him the complete restoration of his creation.

That’s the end that all of Scripture and all of human history is marching toward. Hebrew stories tell of the time when God created the heavens and the earth, looked at it all, and proclaimed it “good.” After creating man and woman, he increased the verdict to “very good.”

The ancient Hebrews called this state of very-goodness shalom – a word that gets translated into English as “peace.” But for the Hebrews it took on a much richer meaning: wholeness, rest, completeness, balance, harmony, perfection. Upon creation, the world was soaked in shalom.

But then the very good creatures that God had created shattered the very peace and wholeness they were designed to enjoy. Ever since then, God has been working to restore his creation to the original state he intended – and (here’s the surprising thing) using those once-very good creatures to do it.

That restoration began in force when Jesus – in a great unknowable mystery both the very Son of God and God himself – made his dwelling among us, as one of his early followers would come to write. In Jesus, God put the hope of not only humankind but of creationkind as he did what no created being could ever do: live a life completely filled with values of the Kingdom of God.

So… come, Lord Jesus, come is the cry of our hearts when we see things that are not the way they were meant to be. When we see injustice, pain, suffering, hurt, broken relationships, whether we recognize it as such or not, the very depths of our souls are crying, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

Why end my final teaching at Emmaus with those words? For several reasons. This advent season, those words are the cry of my heart as I am expectantly and nervously waiting for God to come and show us what is next in our lives. Those words are appropriate words for the church body of Emmaus Road as they head into a time of trying to define who they are and what direction they will be going and seek restoration themselves. Those words resonate with so many during the holidays when pain can be magnified. And they are the words with which John, one of Jesus’ followers, ends what became the final book of our Bible:

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, come.” (Revelation 22:20)

This advent season, I invite you to celebrate the birth of Jesus (God With Us), and everything that birth means. Come, Lord Jesus, come.