Heaven Touching Earth

Love-2

Love (Acrylic on Two Pieces of Cutout Styrofoam)*


The Birth of Jesus

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

An Event for Everyone

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. 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.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Luke 2:1-20 (The Message)

You may be thinking, this is not how I remember the story being told.  What hair-brained translation is this? I, too love the King James Version for this traditional Christmas story, but there are also times to hear the story in a new and fresh way.  Perhaps something jumped out at you differently because you read it in a less familiar translation.

Mary has carried Jesus in her womb and is nearly due when she and Joseph make the journey to Bethlehem.  I picture this very pregnant young woman, ankles possibly swollen, exhausted, making this arduous journey.  They would have traveled nearly one hundred miles over the course of eight to ten days.  (You can actually walk what is now called the Nativity Trail -- one of the likely paths that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus still en utero would have taken.  They would have most likely caravanned with others who were coming into town for the census.)  The King James Version (or the King Jimmy, as my Greek professor Mickey Efird says) describes Mary as "great with child."  I love that image.  Mary is very pregnant.  The long-awaited Messiah is getting ready to burst in on the scene and make his grand entrance.  Well, when I say grand, I mean grand in the sense of heaven touching earth.  By worldly accounts, it is anything but grand.  Joseph and Mary are poor, financially speaking.  And Jesus will be born in a stable.  Picture a cave at the back of a house.  The animals during that day would have been kept in the climate controlled caves that houses were built abutting.  Jesus would be laid in a rock hewn feeding trough, a manger.  I have been to Bethlehem and touched the manger.  The birth would have occurred with Mary standing on bricks.  Our Immanuel comes to us in poverty, in the midst of the ordinary, in a world of violence, power struggles, and oppression.  God meets us where we are.  

Christmas is my favorite season.  I can barely begin to comprehend the love of God who gave it all up, who left the heavenly realm to be present with us.  The atoning sacrifice began in God bodily coming among us in the baby of Jesus, in the person of Christ.  The long-awaited Messiah came humbly loving us where we are and even allowing himself to be dependent upon humanity.  A baby cannot survive on its own.  What greater love than this to give one's entire life surrendered for our sake.  I am overwhelmed by the incredible love that is shown to us, born for us.  God has always been a God of love.  At God's core, God is love.  In Jesus, God showed this love in ways that are beyond measure and beyond comprehension.  And now in our midst, we have Immanuel -- God with us.  The Holy Spirit has chosen to dwell in us, God has made God's home among us.

For a child has been born—for us!    

     the gift of a son—for us!    

He'll take over

     the running of the world.  

His names will be:  Amazing Counselor,

     Strong God,    

Eternal Father,

     Prince of Wholeness.    

His ruling authority will grow,

     and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.    

He'll rule from the historic David throne

     over that promised kingdom.    

He'll put that kingdom on a firm footing

     and keep it going    

With fair dealing and right living,

     beginning now and lasting always.  

The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies    

     will do all this.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (The Message)

When Heaven touches Earth, everything changes.  For our sake a son was born.  For our sake God came into our midst.  God continues to come into our midst in order to transform our world.  And God chooses to work through us to transform the world.  When we exhibit loving kindness to others, they experience God's presence through us.  When we manifest peace in the midst of turmoil, God's peace is revealed through us.  When we live out self-control and patience, people see the nature of God in us.  Heaven touches earth.  In Jesus we see the love of God made flesh.  By coming among us, God's love for us spills forth, and we cannot contain it.  This love is like yeast in bread -- something small yet effective.  It infects and transforms everything it touches.

This Christmas and beyond, may the incarnate, may the fleshed out love of God continue to transform us.  And may we allow Christmas to continue to change the world through us.  May God's kingdom continue to come on earth as it already is in heaven.    


heaven touching earth:

long ago,

     and yet still, today

heaven reaching out

     touching earth and beyond

          impacting

                colliding

           caressing

in the midst of our brokenness

     wholeness

in the midst of our messiness

     purity

in the midst of our despair

     hope

in the midst of our hatred and apathy

     love and compassion

heaven touching earth

     forever changed


Gracious and Loving God, as we, once again, draw close to the manger, may we be reminded of the Christ child who never had anywhere to lay his head but upon a rock.  May we encounter this God who makes a home among the poor, the outcast, the downtrodden.  May we encounter this amazing love.  May it transform us to also live in solidarity with the poor, the outcast and the downtrodden.  We are not our own.  We surrender all that we are.  Lead us and guide us to surrender our time, our resources, our energies, and our gifts to your keeping.  May our lives be more than about ourselves.  Give us hearts of generosity that equip us to give.  Use us as your ambassadors in the world.  May others see the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control of God in the way that we live.  Amen.



*I am currently working on a new piece, entitled Heaven Touching Earth, but it is at the present time sitting on my studio floor, unfinished.  

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