As you approach the very end of your Bible, you’ll encounter a passage that has been a longstanding source of comfort and hope for weary souls:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4)
These verses describe a climactic moment in the story of redemption when God brings heaven down to our renewed world. This moment marks a turning point when God’s never-ending reign of peace, justice, flourishing, and joy is fully realized. All death is gone. All pain has expired. All sadness is swallowed up. It’s a beautiful scene, the description of which sends chills down the spine.
But unfortunately, it’s not here yet. The events of Revelation 21 occupy a place on the timeline of history that is still out ahead of where we happen to be today. And so although we can find comfort in the promise of God one day coming to live with us, for now we’re merely left to wait.
Or are we?
Perhaps you recall the Christmas story as told by Matthew. After recounting how the angel appeared to Joseph to tell him that his fiancée was carrying a baby conceived by God to save his people from their sins, Matthew adds this editorial note: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matt. 1:22-23).
Immanuel. God with us.
Think for a moment about what that means. In the person of Jesus, God has entered our world. He has walked in our shoes. He has lived among us. He has brought heaven to bear upon the everyday realities of our lives. As John put it in his own account of the arrival of Christ: “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 1:14). Heaven has already broken into this world.
We await the day when the New Jerusalem will descend and the eternal reign of God on earth is in full force. But the good news of Christmas is that God has brought this glorious future nearer than we could ever have imagined. In a very real sense, the dwelling place of God is already with man. Immanuel has come. God is with us.
This Christmas, I pray that this truth will bring comfort to those who are wearied by suffering, loss, brokenness, and disappointment. That swaddled baby in the manger? He is God’s in-the-flesh announcement that he is near. Even as we await the arrival of God’s city, let’s rejoice this Christmas in the arrival of his Son.