"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him;
he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." Luke 15:20b
My mother is 92 years old and in a nursing home. Her memory is fading, her hair is snowy white, and she spends much of her time dozing in a wheelchair. She has begun to look like some of the other residents at the home.
The last time I went to visit her I saw a woman sitting in the social area at the entrance who looked so much like my mother I paused, uncertain. The eyes didn't seem right. As I was looking at her she looked at me but gave no sign of recognition. I went searching further. Mother wasn't in her room, but maybe she was at Activities?
In Activities several of the residents were sitting in wheelchairs. I went to one who was sitting with her head bent down. I got down in front of her so she could see me (and I could see her!). Her eyes fluttered open, her face broke into a happy smile and she exclaimed, "Why Joey! I'm so glad to see you!" And she tossed aside her detached demeanor, threw her arms around my neck, and drew me close for a warm hug and kiss. I knew my mother by the way she knew me.
Afterwards I got to thinking. Suppose I get to heaven and see all the assembled and heavenly beings. Many of them are so glorious in appearance that when the Apostle John, writer of the book of Revelation, saw one of them he fell to the ground to worship him. How will we know which one is God?
Which is where the story about my mother comes in. I knew her by how she knew me. We will know God by how God knows us. God will be glad. "I have called you by name, you are mine!" he exclaims in Isaiah. Unconcerned about how it will look to all the glorious beings assembled, he will set aside his Godly distance, smile broadly in unembarrassed joy, throw Godly arms around me, draw me close for a holy kiss and say loudly so all can hear: "Clifford! I'm so glad to see you!" And all that heavenly host will celebrate, for if God is happy, heaven is happy too. And Jesus said, "There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over 99 righteous that needed no repentance." (Luke 15:7)
Christmas comes, with all the trappings that express the theme of heaven's joy come to earth. The Baby who is celebrated at Christmas grew into manhood and suffered much, bearing our sins, but the prophet Isaiah was blessed with a vision of him in heaven. "the pleasure [will] of the Lord will prosper in his hand. He will see the result of the suffering of his soul, and be satisfied." (Is. 53:10b-11a.)