Many years ago I was asked by a homeless young man, "How do I get to heaven?" The man was living amidst suffering and uncertainty, and, to him, heaven represented a better possibility. I don't remember my response, but the question stuck. His question suggests something that is often held in many popular expressions of Christianity: that it is our job to get to heaven.
Yet in John's vision, he does not see people 'getting to heaven,' but the New Jerusalem, the dwelling of God, coming to people. In this stunning image, we discover that God's new creation descends to us. Here we see heaven getting to us.
In the descending of the New Jerusalem, there is a promise that I could scarcely articulate when asked that question all those years ago: God has come near to us and will never abandon us to suffering, uncertainty—to the forces of death. God's kingdom has come and is coming to make all things new—not just up there, but here; not just later, but now.
Merciful God, you bring your new creation to us and dwell among us. Help us to trust in your redeeming work through the condescension of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Revelation 21:1-6 (NRSV)
1 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.
2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
4 "he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."
6 Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."