Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east… and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side. (Ezekiel 47:1-2)
Central Oregon is full of natural wonders. Among my favorites is the Metolius River. Its headwaters burst forth from springs beneath Black Butte. Seemingly out of nowhere relatively calm, bubbling pools pump 50,000 gallons per minute of cool clean water out of the ground. A river is born, which within a few miles is a raging torrent.
The picture of the Metolius headwaters comes to mind when I think about Ezekiel’s vision. He describes the humble beginnings of a river that flowed from Jerusalem. It was nothing more than a trickle. Issuing forth from below the temple it was barely worth noticing. But it began to miraculously multiply…
Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this? (Ezekiel 47:5-6)
What kind of river grows and grows from a trickle? Yet this river grows larger still…
And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. (Ezekiel 47:8-9)
The river becomes a source of life for everything…
And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47:12)
From the most inauspicious beginnings in Ezekiel’s vision, something great goes forth. It is great because its author is God. It is pure and life giving and cannot be contained. So too the story of Christmas takes us to a place of humble beginnings.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14 ESV)
The silence of a Bethlehem night was broken by a declaration of the glory of God. He broke through fallen Creation with a message of hope. A Savior was born who would change the eternal destiny of Mankind. In a world dominated by the powerful, the wealthy, and ultimately by death, God was going to break through and bring salvation. This King was born to the weak and the poor – and would proclaim victory over death. It was a declaration that would reach the ends of the Earth.
This message of hope permeates Christmas even in its most secularized form – in encouragements about giving, family, love, justice. Scrooge himself could not resist the spirits of the season! The miracle began as a trickle in a remote village in the Middle East and has grown into a worldwide flood. While some people might bemoan the secularizing of Christmas, I see in it the constant reminder of the proclamation made to the shepherds 2,000 years ago. The river of life continues to flow to this day.
On Monday night the silence of a night in suburban Portland was broken by the declaration of the good news of Jesus Christ. A group of young men and women gathered at our home in order to do a bit of old-fashioned Christmas caroling in our neighborhood. It was a time they set aside to proclaim Jesus through song to a world that needs to be reminded of the love of God in Christ. Its proclamation is as important today as was the message of hope in the original prophecy a half century before Jesus was born:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)