A little bit of heaven touching earth

I wrote this for midnight mass last year, but I’m posting it now in case anyone’s desperate for something – it’s a reflection on the additional collect for Christmas day.

Lord Jesus Christ, your birth at Bethlehem
Draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth:
Accept our heartfelt praise as we worship you,
Our Saviour and our eternal God.  Amen.

 Tonight we have each been drawn here, to this place, to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth. Whatever we have brought with us tonight – the burdens we carry, the concerns of our hearts, our hopes and fears and dreams – we have come, as we are, into the presence of God, perhaps we’ve come seeking God’s blessing, perhaps to be part of something that is bigger than any of us, perhaps to capture a glimpse of something that usually feels out of our grasp.

And so heaven touches earth at the birth of Jesus, the Christ-child, whenever and wherever we celebrate it, and however we celebrate it.

Heaven touches earth in the dramatic: the prophet Isaiah’s vision of good news, of salvation and singing, the triumph of God over the forces of evil.  Heaven touches earth in the angel choir, through which we glimpse the joy of heaven overspilling into time and space, and through which we make an echo in our own singing.  And later still, heaven touches earth in the star that drew the wise men from the East, the very fabric of the universe proclaiming that ‘Christ is born’.

But heaven also touches earth in the humble things, in the very human: when the angels have gone back into heaven, the shepherds are left with something altogether less majestic: a night-time walk down the hillsides on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and through the backstreets, to find a newborn baby lying in an animal feeding trough, and a couple of very tired parents.

And he shall be called Wonderful, counselor, mighty God, Prince of Peace – yes, perhaps, but not only that.  He shall also be a child:  weak, fragile, and dependent.  Leaving the glory of heaven for the messiness of earth.

Heaven touches earth in the way that Jesus became what we are truly meant to be, but so often refuse to be – that is, fully human, dependent upon God the Father who made us and loves us still.

Heaven touches earth: in the grand and the majestic, in the brightness of the angels and in the small and humble, the tiny child in the dingy stable.  They are all signs of God’s love and grace breaking through into the world.

The birth of Jesus is God’s ultimate reaching out to his damaged and wayward creation.  Reaching out with everything: with love, with grace, with forgiveness, with risk, with humility.

And because of Jesus, heaven is always touching earth.  God has come to us, never to leave us.  That’s what the word ‘Emmanuel’ means: God with us. God is still with us.

We have been drawn here tonight to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth.  Heaven touches earth here in this place where the centuries of prayer have worn thin the veil between earth and heaven.  Heaven touches earth in every carol we sing, every time we lift our voices to join with the choirs of angels. Heaven touches earth in each moment when we glimpse beyond the material world around us and see something of eternity.

Heaven touches earth when any one of us prays, ‘Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay close by me for ever.’  Heaven touches earth whenever we allow the glory of God into the messiness of earth, and the love of God into the messiness of our own lives.

Heaven touches earth here in Buckden, in this church, in this moment.  Heaven touches earth in our communion with one another tonight.  Heaven touches earth every time we manage to lay aside grievances and long-born resentments, and open our hearts to our fellow human beings.  Heaven touches earth in every act of forgiveness, in every piece of generosity, in every moment of tolerance and patience, in every decision that upholds peace and truth and mercy.

Heaven touches earth not just in the easy places: the carols and crib scenes, the happy reunions and the family celebrations.

Heaven also touches earth this night in the difficult places, for the light of the world came first to shine in the darkness. So tonight, heaven touches earth not just here, but on our streets, in our inner cities, in hospitals and hospices, in prisons and homeless shelters.  And heaven surely touches earth tonight in the dusty streets of Afghanistan, and in every conflict zone on this battered world.

For there is no place on earth that’s too dark for the light of God to shine there tonight.

So as heaven reaches out to us tonight, along with so many others, scattered across the globe, let us dare to clasp the hand of the tiny child in the manger, and so find that our little bit of earth has been touched, and changed, by a little bit of heaven.


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