I used to worry that heaven sounded pretty boring. I couldn’t imagine what we’d do for eternity. It didn’t help that, as a kid, I pictured heaven as a place of harps, clouds, pearly gates, and streets of gold.
Of course, I knew I shouldn’t feel that way about heaven, but it just didn’t sound that interesting to me.
When I was in seminary, I was asked to give a talk to kids at a Christian school about what heaven would be like. I bombed. Kids ask honest questions, and my answers weren’t satisfying, even to myself. I left feeling discouraged on two counts: I didn’t know much about what the afterlife would be like, nor did it sound inviting to me.
It was only later that I discovered that our future is much different than I had thought. I finally paid attention to Revelation 21:2-3: “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.’”
“We don’t hope merely for the day when we go to live with God, but ultimately for that final day when God comes to live with us,” writes Michael Wittmer in his book Heaven Is a Place on Earth. Randy Alcorn adds, “God’s plan for the eternal Heaven is a resurrected Earth, inhabited by resurrected people, doing physical activities. Not only is this the emphatic biblical teaching, it is also wonderfully good news to all who have imagined Heaven to be dull, boring, and unearthly, with nothing to do but sing or strum harps, nowhere to go and no one to see.”
From the beginning, God’s plan has always been to dwell on earth with his people. It’s like what Adam and Eve must have experienced when God walked in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). A disembodied existence in some spiritual realm is not what we can expect in eternity. An embodied existence in a restored earth in the very presence of God is what’s in our future.
The birth of Jesus gives us a preview. The Christmas story is about God himself taking up residence in our world. “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,” writes John (John 1:14). The Greek word for dwelt could be translated tabernacle: Jesus tabernacled among us. It brings to mind God’s words in Exodus 25:8: “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.”
That’s what I long for: heaven coming to earth, God living among us. That’s what will happen one day in the future; it’s also what happened that first Christmas. Heaven came to earth. What a taste of our future. I can’t wait.