Food for the Road 16: heaven and earth

Picture it. 

The setting is a field near Bethlehem. It is a summer’s night; a good time to be out in the open after the day’s scorching heat. Shepherds are tending their sheep; this is their workplace – away from the hustle and bustle of city life and city conveniences. Jesus has just been born in a stable not far away.

Suddenly, they are flooded with light, an angel announces Jesus’ birth, and then – then an incredible thing happens: a great choir of angels appears, singing praise to God in heaven and peace to us on earth.

The Saviour has born in the town of Bethlehem – the Messiah, the Lord. He is the crocus in the desert, the water in the wilderness, the way of Holiness through which God’s people can enter into Zion with everlasting joy on their lips as sorrow and sighing flee away (see Isaiah 35). 

And the response is a greeting that spans the the entire range of creation from the angels’ song in heaven to the shepherds’ welcome on earth as the highest and the lowliest join in the wonder and welcome of Jesus born for us.

In this time of drought and devastating fire,
of deep dissatisfaction with politicians and climate-change deniers,
of unprecedented levels of domestic violence and depression
it is highly significant that the prayer that Jesus will one day teach his followers to pray – on earth as it is in heaven – is made manifest in this moment of his birth, out on the periphery, among the am ha-aretz:
the people of the land – for they are the ones who know most deeply the fragility of life and the hard work required to survive, let alone flourish in the dry places ….

May our thoughts today express all the melodies and harmonies of heaven as we ask for the open hand of God to bless the land and all the creatures on it.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:14

Day Thirteen: On Track

Psalm 126
Habakkuk 3:2-6
Philippians 3:12-16

Here’s a fact that might stop you dead in your tracks: there are over thirty idioms containing the word “track” (I got side-tracked at thirty so I know there are more than that).

Being from the right side or the wrong side of the tracks doesn’t seem to matter to anyone anymore as long as you are on the fast track back to the right track, or is that the inside track …? I lose track … so let me double back and put you on a more beaten track ….

Today’s text are all about the way we’ve chosen to walk in: the track we’ve taken.

From Psalm 126 which is a song of ascent – a pilgrimage or walking song that the people sang as they journeyed towards the temple of Jerusalem) …

… to Habakkuk’s prayer for God to traverse the old salvation route again put to music (on shigionoth – see chapter 3, verse 1) …

… to Paul’s cheer-leader-like exhortations to press on towards the goal and race to win the prize …

… there resounds through each passage a spirit of victory and energy, a call to keep moving onwards at a steady pace.

“Where are we headed?” you might wonder. “Are we there yet?” Donkey might add (if you don’t get the reference, put Shrek 2 down as a must-see movie).

“Home,” comes the answer.

Home.
Heavenwards.
Towards an eternity with God.

What is your instinctual response to these words? Your gut feeling?

Do you have a picture of what home, heaven, eternity will be like?

And this is the part where many of us back track or jump the track for fear that God might mistake our interest in home or heaven as a sure sign that we’re ready to enter into the eternal mystery that is life in and with and through God.

The truth, for most of us, is that we’re quite content to be living in the here and now – even though life is a little messy at times and the world can be an ugly place – with the idea of “eternity” being a one-day-in-the-future dream rather than the goal to which we’re off and running.

Home.
Heavenwards.
Eternity.

Even an eternity with God can be a terrifying concept for it is so intangible, so unquantifiable, so unknown to we who use sight and sound and taste and touch and smell and time to make sense of our world. Yet to know Christ and to walk with God is to willingly enter into an ancient, eternal way while others tremble and turn away (Habakkuk 3:7).

And entering into that way radically shifts our perspective:

… things that seem so pressing and important if life is as short as we think it is might lose their urgency as our sense of time expands …

…  the unknown mysteries that once terrified and confounded us become signposts to wonder and awe as we walk in faith rather than knowledge …

… death is neither end nor beginning but just another step in our deepening communion with the One who Made and Saves and Sustains us ….

Today, if you can sit with the discomfort, contemplate your mortality.

What songs would you want sung at your funeral? Who would attend? What would you be remembered for? Who would you worry most about?

What do you hope comes next?