Click here to read Part 1, here for Part 2 and here for Part 3 of this series.
At this time of year, the focus is on the Baby. If you focus on the incarnation long enough, you might also find yourself drawn to meditate on the Child’s future – and your own. The longing and waiting that characterize this season have more to do with the mystery of the end of all things than most of us see at first glance. The trees and tinsel obscure a clear view. But if we take the time to look, we can see glimpses of the love story. Here are the people Jesus loves:
“I say, ‘give me clarity’, you say, ‘will you marry me?’ With all due respect, Jesus, I don’t think you were cut out for religion.” – Jude Simpson
The Bible begins with images of a type of wedding – that of Adam and Eve. It ends with images of a wedding (see Revelation 21-22). The Bible leaves us with a very different picture of the church than the way most of us skeptics have known her:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Rev. 21:2-4
This “New Jerusalem” is the entire community of believers from across the earth who have remained faithful to God to the end, through life’s temptations, hellish trials and his cleansing discipline. Like a pure, innocent, trusting bride longing for her wedding day, the deepest desire within each person in this community is for intimate relationship with the Son.
This powerful imagery is found in Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22-32). Paul tells husbands they’re to love their wives well in order to most fully express a deeper reality: “…just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (vs.25-27).
It is beyond my comprehension how God can transform the church from a weary, jaded and frequently unfaithful renegade with a kaleidoscope of personalities and addictions into a pure, innocent partner with eyes only for the Son. But that is Scripture’s story. The author of that story tells us that he sees something in the church that we don’t see in ourselves.
And though it is usually not a pretty picture, every once in a while, if I press my nose up against the glass, I think I can catch a glimpse of who the church will be…
…in the victorious spirit in the eyes of a Chinese Christians who has been imprisoned for his faith
…in the simplicity of a child reaching for my hand and asking to pray
…in the words “I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?”
…in a piece of artwork that prisms eternity into my soul
…in an ancient hymn sung by a stranger at the bedside of a dying 82 year-old woman in a filthy, forgotten nursing home
…on Sunday morning when a tangible, bigger-than-us desire for God invites His presence among a desperate congregation
…in a conversation with a friend
Jesus loves you. May this reality permeate your worship this week as you experience the longing that no gift-wrapped box can ever satisfy.