"He is the image of the invisble God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers, all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together...For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell..." (Colossians 1:15-19)
Iona has often been described as a "thin place" where the material and the spiritual are closely interwoven, where God comes close and the separation between heaven and earth is as thin or thinner than a sheet of paper.
My short time on Iona (an island and ecumenical religious community in the Hebrides of Scotland) this past fall most certainly was a thin place for me. Iona is a place of pilgrimage welcoming and offering hospitality to people from all corners of the world to this little spit of land in the midst of the sea. The people of Iona live close to the land, the sea and the sky, daily dwelling in and honoring the integrity of God's creation.
Why do I bring these images of this remote, isolated, humble, tiny island into the celebration of Advent and Christmas? Precisely, because these echo the images of the story of Christ's birth.
Christmas is a time when those who are deeply involved with the life of the church and those who are on the fringes find themselves making a pilgrimage back to their home towns, back to their families, back to the church where they grew up. And it is there, at the Christmas Eve services, when that oh-so-familiar scripture is read, the timeless carols are sung, and the candles spread their quiet glow; a peace, a hush, a wonder, a love descends and settles down upon us where hope is rekindled within us. This is our thin place where God in Jesus Christ becomes a human being like us, where the love of God reaches deep down into us and becomes real. This is our thin place where eternity touches the temporal, where we believe again that life is good and a gift to be cherished, where wounds, broken hearts and weary souls can be healed and revived, that hope, for us, for the world, truly is possible. This is our thin place where Jesus, becoming like us, shares fully in all the hopes and fears, joys and sorrows of our lives, to let us know that God loves us, forgives us, makes us whole, desires to give us life in all its fullness. And we believe once more that there is no part of life that is beyond the reach of our faith or of God.
In that little town of Bethlehem, after a pilgrimage to register in his hometown, Joseph and Mary, find welcom and hospitality in a humble stable. And there, the Son of God is born and found his welcome in these simple surroundings. The shepherds make their pilgrimage to the place of Christ's birth, humble folks who made their living off the land with their flocks. And they, in turn, are welcomed by the One who welcomes all to him. In this place, in this child, heaven touches earth, the impossible becomes possible, hope is born, peace sings its presence, and a love so holy infuses all of creation. It is palpable; you can touch it, taste it, feel it, hear it and see it.
Christmas is a thin time and to celebrate it together in church becomes a thin place where God comes to us in God's own Son, Jesus Christ, and touches us in the deepest recesses of our being with love, with hope, with peace and with joy far beyond anything the world can offer.
No matter where you find yourself, physically or spiritually this Advent season, may you begin your pilgrimage to Bethlehem. May you find welcome and hospitality there at the manger, in the presence of the Christ child. May the heartbeat of the Eternal become the rhythm of your own heart and may the holy mystery and miracle of Christmas be with you and dwell within you evermore.