by Amanda Reardon, Captain –
It happens this time every year. Just as we begin to feel world-weary, perhaps even disenchanted, we find reprieve. For a few brief weeks, planet Earth is a place of wonder and mirth. Surliness is outdone by good cheer. Selfishness is replaced by generosity. People hold doors open for strangers, trading knowing smiles as though they share a secret. But it is not a secret. The whole world knows why all humanity feels “a part of the main” (John Donne) again. It is the Christmas season.
The night Mary gave birth to Jesus, a sliver of heaven lighted down to earth. At that time, life was bleak for those who lived in Israel. The political situation was tense. There was constant threat of barbaric cruelty. (Consider Herod’s ensuing slaughter of the innocents as a temperature reading of the climate of the day.) The religious leaders were oppressive, and racial and class prejudice was expected. Then zap! God himself appeared—literally—to save the day. And when he came, it was as though the door of heaven had been opened a crack, then quickly shut again. A few earth dwellers caught a glimpse of what was inside.
When Jesus came, a multitude of angels proclaimed the arrival to a pack of shepherds. The song they sang offered praise to God and a blessing of peace upon mankind. But their song was merely a preview of the great refrain they sing in Heaven. Revelation 19:6–8 records a bit of their heavenly lyrics, where God is glorified and his bride is acknowledged as being prepared for him. The bride, of course, is the church—which consists of all those who have chosen to believe in Christ. Just as the shepherds previewed, in heaven there are songs of God’s glory and of mankind, “on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).
When Jesus came, the humble shepherds drew near to him. Surely anyone who reads the story of the nativity is impressed by the fact that the angels brought word of the birth to these “average Joes.” And these were the first (besides Mary and Joseph) to behold the incarnate Christ! This is another sample of heaven, for heaven is a place where the last are first, they draw closest to the throne of God. (Matthew 19:2-30)
When Jesus came, men of greatness realized their place. Though we know that the wise men did not arrive the night Christ was born, they are certainly part of the story of the nativity. These men of learning and wealth crossed many miles to humbly bow beside a wooden trough because it held the King of kings. Philippians 2:10 promises that some day everyone will bow before the great King and acknowledge his lordship. No one will declare himself worthy to stand in his presence.
The sliver of heaven was the unearthly angelic announcement of the birth of the Messiah, and the welcoming of simple shepherds at the Messiah’s bed, and the humbling of great men in presence of the greatest one.
And today, there remains a piece of the sliver of heaven. Many people will not have a spiritual experience this holiday season, yet the joy of the celebration of the Savior will spill into their lives. The joy should be intensified for those who personally know the Savior. His intervention into the world allowed his intervention into our individual lives. We have much to celebrate! And so, many people will sing of the glory of God, just as the angels once did. Many will also rush to the scene of the birth, recapturing the scene the shepherds saw that night.
But who will join the wise men? They put their lives on hold in pursuit of the great King. Many people believe that this pursuit took years. Years spent traveling, to spend moments at the manger! (We Americans “sacrifice” a few hours on a Sunday morning, and seldom do we kneel, seldom do we physically approach the altar.) Of all the people who experienced the sliver of heaven that first Christmas, I suspect it was the wise men who received the deepest blessing. They had invested themselves fully in the experience. Those who are wisest are those who leave all else to find the Savior, and who drop to their knees in adoration once they encounter him.
Whenever I picture myself in heaven, I imagine myself either fully prostrate or on my knees in worship. So when I think of the sliver of heaven this season, I’ll think mostly of the wise men in worship and how that foreshadows our eternal occupation. Humility and reverence before God are a taste of what heaven will be like. And only those who engage in these things understand how sweet it really is.