We live in a spiritual world. Yes, it’s material and physical as well – but we are also spiritual beings, able to connect with spiritual realities. We don’t necessarily see those realities very often, but we remain attuned to it. Even in our secular culture, the continuing fascination with ghosts, horoscopes, superstitions and the like, while misguided, remind us that we are spiritual beings. We are made to make spiritual connections, one way or another.
Today’s reflection is a counterpart to day 15. There we affirmed that a real God comes for real people. God enters our flesh-and-blood world, as a flesh-and-blood human. He laughs, he cries, he feels pain. It is earthy, grounded.
But let’s beware making this amazing story all (or only) about this world. There is a spiritual reality to all this too. Heaven is real, and is populated by created spiritual beings – generally referred to as angels, though this broad term covers a number of words which might refer to different types of spiritual being.
The word angel itself means ‘messenger’ – their job is to do God’s bidding, and, throughout history, Christian theology affirms that they do interact with our physical world. The nativity story is, of course, a key moment in this interaction, full of angelic activity – first Zechariah, then Mary, then Joseph, and now the shepherds.
What is the significance of all this? In essence, heaven comes to earth. The spiritual realm connects with our physical existence in new and deeper ways. It’s not just Jesus – it’s the whole machinery of heaven. Here the heavenly host appear in the sky – the shepherds were uniquely blessed to see them, and we can only imagine what that sight must have been like.
We are sometimes tempted to imagine that heaven is kind of empty, until humans are reconciled to God and able to fill it. But this passage reminds us that heaven is pretty full already! Angels abound, praising God eternally. And the amazing truth is that we get invited into that. One day, we’ll join the fantastic heavenly party.
But it’s not just ‘for later’, it starts well before that: whenever we worship God here, we are joining in with the eternal song of heaven, joining heaven with earth in our praises. And one day, we will get to do that forever. Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth!