By DS Dennis W. Miller.
Hebrews 10:19-22, “Dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us draw near into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.”
This scripture passage contains two words that summarize the Book of Hebrews. Those words are the meaning of Christmas and are an invitation from God. By coming as a helpless baby in Bethlehem, God was saying to the world – “draw near.” Jesus was born to be where we are. Not in a sanitized birthing suite in Columbus’ Riverside Methodist Hospital, but in a place that more resembled a humble barn outside of the Perry County village of New Straitsville. You could have smelled that place if you were downwind!
We don't live in heaven. We don't live on Cloud Nine or with Santa at the North Pole. We live in a poor and messed up world – a world of conflicted families, a world of cancers and diseases, a world of war, racism and hate. We live in Appalachia Ohio where according to the Ohio Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), 26.7% of our children live in poverty and babies are almost twice as likely as the average Ohio newborn to be diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (newborn exposed to addictive opiate drugs while in the mother's womb). Jesus came into our hurting, messed up world. Not as some glow-in-the-dark Christ child in a nativity scene in downtown Zanesville, but as a real, live, eating, sleeping, screaming, burping baby. He who had controlled the universe one day, the next could not control his own bodily functions.
Yet, the incarnation is an invitation to intimacy with God and a commission to shine on those living in darkness! Sixteen years ago, Rachel & I led a group of eight individuals to the country of Greece. One of the individuals who traveled with us was an older gentleman named Harold. He had just purchased a video camera and wanted to capture his experience for friends and family back home. Often during our tour lectures, Harold would roam off on his own to capture something of interest to him. One day we visited the Church of Hagios Demetrios in the northern city of Thessalonica along the Aegean Sea. Known as the largest church in the country, the Byzantine basilica dates back to 324 AD. Inside the sanctuary near the high altar is a “holy of holies” area that was separated by an iconostasis and curtain. This sacred space represents heaven on earth - the presence of God. Before the iconostasis, the entire platform was roped off to visitors with a sign that read in Greek and English, “Holy Restricted Area. Please Do Not Enter!”. Standing in the basilica’s nave listening to our tour guide, I noticed that Harold was missing again. As my eyes scanned the room in search of our carefree wanderer, I gasped when I laid my eyes on him. Harold was up at the Holies of Holies with his video camera! His head was peering through the opening in the curtain as he had crossed into the restricted inner sanctum!
I am reminded this time of year that the incarnation, crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus allow us to enter through the curtain! This is not mere theology. It is a literal experience God wants for us. God wants us to go daily beyond the veil to live in God’s presence. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus has cleared the way. Therefore, I invite you to “draw near” this Christmas. Go through the curtain into the Holies of Holies to pray, read, meditate, and listen. Enjoy Emmanuel – God with us. Know you are the beloved. For as we draw near, we are so transformed by God’s presence that we boldly return to life outside the curtain to minister with joy in Jesus name.