John 1:1-5; 9-17
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Advent disrupts faulty half-truths about God’s character. It disturbs the status quo. It shakes tired theology from the cobwebs of the mind, clearing space for a fresh God-image and a renewed vision for Kingdom living.
The disrupting, disturbing and shaking might reach its holy peak with our understanding of heaven. Advent says heaven is primarily something we experience NOW, not a future destination. Earth is not a holding zone for the saved. Earth is where the kingdom of heaven becomes a reality.
As the late Dallas Willard once said, “The gospel is about getting into heaven before you die, not after.”
The central question surrounding heaven has traditionally been “If I died tonight, where would I go?” The unstated, but universally understood follow up question has been “Would I go to heaven or hell?” Now, most of us don’t say it like that anymore. The Christian community no longer tolerates that sort of shameful rhetoric. At least, not explicitly. I would argue, however, the question still motivates our theology and church philosophy. We continue to devote much time and energy to “saving people.”
And that would be okay, except that the church has been content to stop there. Once someone’s eternal state is secure, we move on to the next person. I realize I paint with a broad brush. The local church values spiritual growth and community and discipleship. I get that. But I still argue “if I died tonight, where would I go?” continues to heavily influence Christian living and church philosophy.
Although Advent doesn’t dismiss life after this life, it asks a different, more compelling question:
If I wake up tomorrow, how will I live?
If God gives you another day, will you be a vehicle of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Will your thoughts, desires and action echo the prayer of Jesus, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
You see, so long as heaven is somewhere we go after we die, we can avoid dealing with our biases, prejudices, and addictive behaviors. We can also justify our indifference to evil and oppression. Why engage in the spiritually (and emotionally and physically) demanding work of redemption and restoration now when the point is to be in heaven later? I’ll watch Netflix instead.
Advent, however, says heaven is something we experience right now. And if we’re honest, this is much more demanding. It forces us to humble ourselves before God, to look honestly at the man in the mirror and engage in the difficult work of transformation.
If heaven is a right-now-reality, then we must consider who we’re becoming. Are we growing into love or apathy? Are we maturing in faith or increasing in anxiety? Are our thoughts and desires becoming more congruent with our actions? Are we nurturing a healthy vision of the future or are we clinging to the past? Are we becoming an on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven person?
But there’s more.
Does our way of life help others experience heaven?
Your spouse, for example. Is she flourishing in her relationship with God? Does she feel free and safe and secure in your presence? Do you pray with her, listen to her, help her realize her gifts?
Your children, do you parent them with grace? Do you set boundaries for them? Do you pray with and for them? Do you nurture a culture of integrity and peace and hope in your home?
And your job? Can you say heaven is coming to earth at your workplace? Do you work with diligence and honesty? Do you value the well-being of your employees and co-workers more than the previous quarter’s numbers or the next big promotion? Do you show up with joy and gratitude because you’re working for the Lord or with a critical spirit?
We could go on down the line.
How about your neighbors?
Your peers at school?
On-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven living requires much of us. It required much of Jesus as well. But it also frees us. And I believe freedom is exactly the reason Jesus came. To experience freedom is to find heaven.
This is finally what heaven as a right-now-reality means. Freedom is here. We don’t have to be crippled with fear or overcome by shame. Failures don’t have to define us. Neither do the opinions of others. Broken relationships can be restored. The chains of addiction can be broken. Joy and peace can be found. The wounds of abuse can be healed.
Heaven is here!
What is one step you can take today (in one every of your life) to make heaven a right-now-reality.
God, I pray for your kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. May your kingdom come in my own life. Transform me. Fill me with your Spirit to be a vehicle of love, joy and peace to the world. Amen!
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.