“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace for people of God’s good will (Luke 2:14).”
It is common to pass quickly from these traditional words of praise to the detailed account of what the Shepherds discovered at the Bethlehem crèche—the child swaddled, parents adoringly attending, and the animals carrying on as usual. Stunning was the discovery just as the Heavenly Host had described! Stunning enough to explain the rush to see “this thing that God has done and revealed to us,” (2:15).
One reason we so quickly move from the sheep and fields to the village manger traces I think to an assumed split between heaven and earth which moderns accept as self-evident. Heaven is there and earth is here. Heaven is not earth and vice versa. Heaven is God’s space. Earth is ours. So we think. But we think brokenly. We imagine the world as it has come to be, not as it was and will be again. We are quick to note what’s up in heaven and then return our focus to the way it is in “the real world.”
In so doing, we risk missing the grand and glorious point of it all. That somehow at this moment in an obscure and much maligned corner of the ancient world the mending of earth’s breach with heaven has begun. That God comes down, enters in, and gathers up earth’s spaces into holy embrace so completely and powerfully that things in heaven and earth—all things above, below, within, and around—are brought together, reconciled, and healed whole. That Mary’s cradling of Messiah mirrors heaven’s embrace of all earth’s orphans, that her quick and “natural” response to her Infant’s cries reflects the sure and “supernatural” reach of abounding grace for a groaning world, that precisely the glory enthroned in the highest places will not and cannot be confined there, but must and does cascade toward the lowest and least places until no receptive place remains untouched by Shalom.
In the light of that Day, when God in the highest is glorified, God’s good will flows toward all places and peoples leaving peace in its wake.
Now the challenge for us is not to allow all of this to flatten and thin out to pious platitude and sweet sentimentality. Heaven rescues, reclaims, and renews earth’s spaces, as ugly and broken as they may be now. Yes, earth and Heaven comingle because the dividing walls have collapsed, beaten down by the living, loving, serving, suffering and dying of the Final Adam. Thus, alienation becomes estranged from a world reborn. Diversity remains, but division is exiled. Enmity, and the anger that spawns it, must flee from this Love that rages until all the beloved sit together at the table.
We will meet the challenge by confidently trusting this better than good news—that indeed with the Self-giving of God there began the healing of earth’s rift with the Heavens. The grace given truly amazes and abounds. In our hearts and homes it can abound. In our relationships and friendships, it may abound. In the circumstances that are awkward, confusing, conflicted, angry, hostile, dangerous and deadly it must abound. So far as we have, or will have, any opportunities the grace given must amaze and abound for the abused, the outcast, the forsaken and forlorn, the vulnerable and threatened, the hopeless and despairing, for however the darkness manifests.
We will meet the challenge when the One whose coming we welcome during Advent inhabits our hearts, enlightens our eyes, renews and informs our minds, seasons our words, and enlivens our ways so that our very lives become sign and seed of earth’s final healing.