REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Celebrating the infant Jesus and looking forward to the Lord’s return

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Reference: Revelation 21:2-4 )

There may be thematic appropriateness for these verses being used for this day, the day of Christmas Eve. (Five years ago I was more sure than I am now. This actually a re-working of my thoughts from December 24th 2009.) According to anecdotal stories, Jesus was born early Christmas morning when the star of Bethlehem was at its brightest. This same light could be re-imaged as the light of the new Jerusalem. And these verses also talk about the Divine coming to humanity again as it happened that early Christmas morning – the infant Jesus born in a stable growing to be the Messiah that these verses say said will come again along with the coming of God and the Holy City. Yes, these verses could be a good fit for a Christmas Eve day that anticipates the coming of light from heaven.

It is intriguing to have juxtaposed the coming of the infant Jesus with the coming of the Holy City as a bride to the now grown Christ – if it were not for remembering that the coming of God and Holy City in Revelation means the end of this world. If one were to forget that the coming of God in these verses is the time of judgment. If only one could forget or put aside the images of the battle in heaven and the vengeance of the Lord, the coming of the Holy City could be serene and pastoral.

The world forgets however, at its peril, that the coming of the baby Jesus started a chain of events that the world has not yet seen through to completion. The coming of the baby Jesus is a soft and pastoral scene. And the final day of God when the new Jerusalem, the purified and Holy City, comes down is a day of joy and looking forward to a new way. But in-between there is still mourning, crying, pain and death.

I think this is why, beloved, during Christmas we are encouraged and we encourage others to set aside animosity and hostility, and to focus on love and compassion. It has been a time when nations lay down their military arms and remember our connection to one another. We remind ourselves and others that God sent light to the earth in the form of the baby Jesus. And that some day the Lord will return to complete what was started so long ago.

But that day, I do not think, is this day. This is a day spent waiting for Christ Jesus, who in his tiny hand is clutching hope for the world. May you spend Christmas Eve in joyful wonder and hope, with family and/or friends waiting for our savior to be born anew in our mourning and pain filled world, and in our hearts. Selah!

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The Reign of God – Too “new” to believe

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 )

When ever I read these verses, I get this mental image of a glowing city floating down out of the sky – with a bridal veil fluttering out around the outer buildings. But my imagination is also caught by the phrase “the old order of things has passed away” and I think about all the things in this world that I would like to change – pain, suffering, illness, death, loneliness, depression, want, starvation – and the list goes on. It seems like these things have always been with us, and will always be with us. We don’t know any other way!

The Confession says we are looking forward to this. Of course we are! But it will be a remarkably different world, one might not even recognize. Our clue to this is (and it dismays me not just a little) there will no longer be seas or oceans. Albert Barnes gives a wonderful explanation that I will not quote at length. Basically he says that John thinks of the seas as “wasted space” where people cannot live and non-people live now. In this new heaven/earth/Jerusalem things will be so completely different.

I tell you gentle reader, I can not imagine our world without the seas and the oceans. And I am not sure I would want to live in the new heaven/earth/Jerusalem without sea “leviathans”! Seas, oceans, and beaches – that is my idea of heaven! Would I trade that for a world without suffering? But no, the question is moot. I would suffer without beaches, seas, and oceans, so they have to be there!

We hold on so tight to the things of this world, giving them more status, importance, time, and energy than we should. Especially if some day they will go away anyway. Better to hold on to the things we know will be in the world that will float down perfect and glowing (and yes, WITH glistening waters and beaches).

May you gentle reader hold firm in your faith until the present becomes the past and the unknown new is here. Selah!