We call it Christmas. The incarnation. The day God became a man. But have you ever noticed that our view of that amazing event is always vertical? We are focused, as we should be, on God coming down to us—or, perhaps more accurately, God appearing among us.
This is the scene we are allowed to see. And it is amazing. So amazing that it will take forever to truly grasp it. Yet there is another scene, one we have not been able to see. One we can only imagine. And that is what I’d like for you to do with me for a few moments. Imagine the incredible moment when Jesus left His proper place in heaven. A place known only to Him, where His glory dwells in unapproachable light. Have you ever wondered about that moment?
Author Madeleine L’Engle brings us a sense of this moment when she writes:
Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all His love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy? (Bright Evening Star, Crosswicks, Inc., 1997).
In the past, we were allowed to see visible manifestations of His Shekinah glory. We saw the cloud by day, the fire by night, the burning bush, the earthquake, the great wind. These were not God. They were not even His shadow. They were the leaves that the power of the passing wind blows off the trees, evidence of His presence displayed for those with weak eyes and weaker faith. We saw but an eclipse of His glory, and only indirectly, for our fragile senses were not equipped to look upon or fathom such glory.
But there is another scene we have never really been told much about. It is, in fact, mentioned only in passing when we read that He “who, being in very nature God, . . . made Himself nothing” (Phil. 2:6-7).
Nothing? How could God make Himself nothing? Only by comparing His eternal glory, which our world cannot contain, with the feeble human nature that He would take upon Himself. There was simply “nothing” in that human nature or tiny body that our God took upon Himself that compared with His prior glory.
He made Himself nothing. Suddenly His creative power was called upon again, creating a new form for His eternal existence. But instead of creating everything out of nothing, He who holds all things together would now pour everything into nothing.
With every inch He descended to earth, He allowed His glory to leak away, until His arrival on earth found Him empty. Only heaven would remember His former glory.
CHANGES IN HEAVEN
At a specific moment, if we can call it that, everything in heaven that had remained the same for eternity past changed. A decision made in eternity past, in the eternal perfect mind of God, suddenly reached that holy moment for which it had been born. The Son left the side of the Father and became a man.
We know what happened on earth after that, but what about heaven? What was the reaction of the Father as His Son voluntarily undertook this suicide rescue mission? What emotions passed between the Father and the Son? What did the Son feel as the time drew near to leave His glory and His Father’s side and to take on a human nature?
In some way deeper than the mysteries of the universe, their relationship would be different. And in at least one way, the Son would never be the same, for He had added human nature to His eternal being. Now eternal glory would emanate forever from One we could see, from One we could touch, from One who had touched us, and who could now touch us forever. This is the very least of what Paul meant when he told the Philippians that “He humbled Himself” (Phil. 2:8). Any human words fail to adequately describe that truth.
Was there silence in heaven when the Son left His glory? Did the solemnity of the moment and the eternal ramifications cause a hush? Did all heaven mourn His departure, even while angels sang His praises on earth? Or was there confident praise and adoration among the host of heaven and the Godhead? Knowing that the salvation of mankind was imminent, did His departure elicit the same praise and exaltation that visited the shepherds only moments later?
What was the mood in heaven? Would the knowledge that death could not hold Him, or the joy of the salvation that He would provide, overrule the pain of the separation?
Human wisdom has no answer. All we can do is conjecture. That is what author J. B. Phillips did when he “imagined” what the entire incarnation must have been like from the perspective of the angels. Just for a few moments, imagine along with him, and see where it takes you.
THE ANGELS POINT OF VIEW
Once upon a time a very young angel was being shown round the splendors and glories of the universes by a senior and experienced angel. To tell the truth, the little angel was beginning to be tired and a little bored. He had been shown whirling galaxies and blazing suns, infinite distances in the deathly cold of interstellar space, and to his mind there seemed to be an awful lot of it all. Finally he was shown the galaxy of which our planetary system is but a small part. As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis ball to the little angel whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.
“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What’s special about that one?”
“That,” replied his senior solemnly, “is the Visited Planet.”
“Visited?” said the little one. “You don’t mean visited by—”
“Indeed I do. That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant and not perhaps overclean, has been visited by our young Prince of Glory.” And at these words he bowed his head reverently.
“But how?” queried the younger one. “Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendors of His Creation, and millions more that I’m sure I haven’t seen yet, went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?”
“It isn’t for us,” said his senior, a little stiffly, “to question His ‘why’s,’ except that I must point out to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers as you seem to be. But that He really went I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that. As to why He became one of them . . . How else do you suppose could He visit them?”
The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust.
“Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”
“I do, and I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.
“Close your eyes for a moment,” said the senior angel, “and we will go back in what they call Time.”
While the little angel’s eyes were closed and the two of them moved nearer to the spinning ball, it stopped its spinning, spun backward quite fast for a while, and then slowly resumed its usual rotation.
“Now look!” and as the little angel did as he was told, there appeared here and there on the dull surface of the globe little flashes of light, some merely momentary and some persisting for quite a time.
“Well, what am I seeing now?” queried the little angel.
“You are watching this little world as it was some thousands of years ago,” returned his companion. “Every flash and glow of light that you see is something of the Father’s knowledge and wisdom breaking into the minds and hearts of people who live upon the earth. Not many people, you see, can hear His Voice or understand what He says, even though He is speaking gently and quietly to them all the time.”
“Why are they so blind and deaf and stupid?” asked the junior angel rather crossly.
“It is not for us to judge them. We who live in the Splendor have no idea what it is like to live in the dark. We hear the music and the Voice like the sound of many waters every day of our lives, but to them—well, there is much darkness and much noise and much distraction upon the earth. Only a few who are quiet and humble and wise hear His voice. But watch, for in a moment you will see something truly wonderful.”
The Earth went on turning and circling round the sun, and then, quite suddenly, in the upper half of the globe there appeared a light—tiny, but so bright in its intensity that both the angels hid their eyes.
“I think I can guess,” said the little angel in a low voice. “That was the Visit, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, that was the Visit. The Light Himself went down there and lived among them; but in a moment, and you will be able to tell that even with your eyes closed, the light will go out.”
“But why? Could He not bear their darkness and stupidity? Did He have to return here?”
“No, it wasn’t that,” returned the senior angel. His voice was stern and sad. “They failed to recognize Him for Who He was—or at least only a handful knew Him. For the most part they preferred their darkness to His Light, and in the end they killed Him.”
“The fools, the crazy fools! They don’t deserve—”
“Neither you nor I nor any other angel knows why they were so foolish and so wicked. Nor can we say what they deserve or don’t deserve. But the fact remains, they killed our Prince of Glory while He was Man amongst them.”
“And that, I suppose, was the end? I see the whole Earth has gone black and dark. All right, I won’t judge them, but surely that is all they could expect?”
“Wait. We are still far from the end of the story of the Visited Planet. Watch now, but be ready to cover your eyes again.”
In utter blackness the Earth turned round three times, and then there blazed with unbearable radiance a point of light.
“What now?” asked the little angel shielding his eyes.
“They killed Him, all right, but He conquered death. The thing most of them dread and fear all their lives He broke and conquered. He rose again, and a few of them saw Him, and from then on became His utterly devoted slaves.”
“Thank God for that!” said the little angel.
“Amen. Open your eyes now; the dazzling light has gone. The Prince has returned to His Home of Light. But watch the Earth now.”
As they looked, in place of the dazzling light there was a bright glow which throbbed and pulsated. And then as the Earth turned many times, little points of light spread out. A few flickered and died, but for the most part the lights burned steadily, and as they continued to watch, in many parts of the globe there was a glow over many areas.
“You see what is happening?” asked the senior angel. “The bright glow is the company of loyal men and women He left behind, and with His help they spread the glow, and now lights begin to shine all over the Earth.”
“Yes, yes,” said the little angel impatiently. “But how does it end? Will the little lights join up with one another? Will it all be light, as it is in Heaven?”
His senior shook his head. “We simply do not know,” he replied. “It is in the Father’s hands. Sometimes it is agony to watch, and sometimes it is joy unspeakable. The end is not yet. But now I am sure you can see why this little ball is so important. He has visited it; He is working out His plan upon it.”
“Yes, I see, though I don’t understand. I shall never forget that this is the Visited Planet” (Taken from J. B. Phillips’ “The Angels’ Point Of View,” New Testament Christianity, Macmillan, 1956, pp.15-19).
THE HEAVENLY AUDIENCE
Though Phillips’ story is fanciful, it reminds us that heaven too was an audience to Christmas. Our Lord did indeed leave His glory and the company of the angels. He did it to show us what could not be shown from heaven—the great extent of His love. We would have to see it up close.
When adults want to speak to a small child gently and effectively, they bend down and accommodate themselves to the child’s size and understanding. In the same way, the Lord of heaven voluntarily accommodated Himself to us in the incarnation. He made Himself like us in form so that we might become like Him in holiness.
The incarnation, as we call it, mixes pain and sorrow so perfectly with hope and joy that we cannot know what transpired in heaven before our Lord left His heavenly tarmac. Our perspective will, I fear, always be skewed. The moment was too glorious to truly understand. We will always see Christmas from this side, at least as long as we are on this side.
Today we call it Christmas. Only eternity knows what we shall call it forever.