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Advent: Pulling Back the Curtain

By David W Roach 

  The angels suddenly appeared to the shepherds singing, “Peace on Earth!” The angels scared the shepherds silly.

  During the Season of Advent we try to look forward and backward at the same time. The scripture readings speak of Christ’s birth, but also of his return in glory. The birth of Christ is fun to think about. The return of Christ, not so much. We read about stars falling from the sky; the moon turning to blood, darkness and smoke; wars, famines, disease and we wonder, “What does that have to do with Christmas?”  Therefore we ignore the future and think about the little family in the stable.

  And then there are those angels. We decide that we can live with the angels because it’s Christmas and pageants always dress small children in white robes and tinsel halos. Nothing frightening there.

  However, the angels that visited the shepherds were not small children. Those angels belonged to the other part of Advent, the future part, the apocalyptic part, the part about darkness, falling stars and so on.

  In the ancient world, people believed that a curtain separated the world from the spiritual. They also believed that on occasion God gives us a peek behind the curtain. That night the shepherds were given just such a peek.  The angels didn’t come down earth, but rather the shepherds looked up behind the curtain.

  A chef once said of Chinese cooking, “Enjoy the food, but don’t look in the kitchen.” We live in a world we can understand. To understand what goes on behind the curtain defies imagination. Angels don’t belong to this world and when the curtain is pulled back it scares us silly.

  Which makes the coming of Jesus so special. Jesus, like Advent, belongs to both worlds. In Jesus Christ, God stepped beyond the curtain into our world “and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father.”

  Curtains perform other important functions. During a play, the opening and closing of the curtain mark the transition from one act or scene to the next. At the birth of Jesus, the curtain opened on act one and God stepped on stage in human form. The curtain closed on Good Friday, but opening again on Easter Sunday. The second act is the one playing out now. The third and final act will open the day that Christ returns in triumph to rule the world. During each act, there have been scene changes accompanied by visions of angels and cameo appearances by Moses, Elijah and Jesus.

  I don’t know what scene we are in now. My sense is that the final, climactic scene of Act Two is coming to an end. There will be angels in that scene and they will scare people silly then too. The message, however, will be the same. “Peace on earth.” Only this time, there will be people around who are happy to hear it.

  Keep watch for Act Three  coming soon.