For the past six years I’ve been blessed to work in two very different worlds: the denomination (as an editor) and my local congregation (as a pastor). In the past, as a full-time pastor, it was easy to lose sight of all we do together as churches through our denomination. And it’s a lot. More recently, as a full-time editor at Faith Alive, I was in daily contact with denominational work, but did not always see how that connected with congregational life. So having a foot in both worlds is a real privilege, especially because I have such a great team of coworkers in each.
In a much more profound and significant way, the old priest Zechariah (Luke 1) needs to learn to live in two worlds as well: the world as it presents itself here below and the world above (the kingdom of heaven) that is poised to reassert its presence big-time on this planet.
The angel Gabriel’s sudden appearance startles Zechariah. While heaven teems with angels, down here few had been seen for centuries. And when Gabriel announces that he and Elizabeth shall have a son—and what a son!—Zechariah doesn’t buy it. He’s so used to living only in this world, where angels don’t show up even in temples, where seniors don’t have babies even though they’ve prayed for them all their lives, and where a downtrodden remnant of God’s people muddle through routines and rituals as they’ve been told but without real hope of significant change from their routine existence.
So when the heavenly realm joyously begins to invade his space, Zechariah freezes like a startled deer. Life in ancient Jerusalem never taught him how to deal with real-life realities that are run of the mill in that heavenly kingdom.
Zechariah faithfully goes through the motions dictated by the old age of shadows: the temple service. But his inability to believe the angel’s good news betrays his deeper faithlessness. He’s unprepared for what will happen shortly, though in heaven everything has been readying itself since time immemorial for the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). And now it has come. The angel chorus, the Shekinah (God-revelation) in Bethlehem’s fields, the “voice in the wilderness,” and Immanuel—all ready to roll.
Never again will we need to live in just one world—nor may we, for we now see no one from an earthly point of view (2 Cor. 5:16). The brief glimpses of glory once caught by priests behind the curtain are now transformed into a daily revelation of God with us through a Spirit that indwells us always and everywhere.
It’s not good for us to adopt just one perspective. But worse—much worse—would be living as if heaven’s best had not come to tent among us (John 1:14), full of grace and truth. Let’s never get tired of reminding ourselves and each other, with the eye of faith, to see that kingdom of God, right here, right now. Let’s let our Christmas celebration remind us to keep our eyes open throughout a.d. 2013 for heaven’s daily presence in our earthly lives.