Are there certain places, or times, when you feel closer to God? Most believers would say this is true in their lives. This idea originated in the Celtic tradition in Great Britain when people believed that the island of Iona in Scotland was a place to travel to if you wanted to sense a closeness to God that you couldn’t find anywhere else.
Iona is considered to be a holy place that has been frequented by travelers since the 7th century. Originally, it was settled by 12 companions who went there from Ireland back in 563 A.D. In fact, Iona is considered the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland and the monastery there became quite famous as what has become known as a “thin place.”
So what is a “thin place?” It is a place where the distance between heaven and earth seems to shrink and the two worlds are deemed to be closer to each other than is normally the case. Sometimes, it has been described as almost being able to see the heaven from your vantage point here on earth. There are also those who believe, and I am among them, that thin places can also occur around special times of the year, particularly Christmas and Easter. But thin places can be difficult to define in their entirety.
There are times when I can be in nature, or attending worship, and as the apostle John would say, I get caught up in the Spirit and feel closer to God. A really good prayer also has that effect on me. But those aren’t the only times that I have experienced this almost otherworldly presence of God.
It is impossible to go in search of thin places. They tend to happen by chance in the spur of the moment. Likewise, there are thick places as well. It is in these times and places that heaven seems exceedingly elusive and trying to chase it seems futile. Time and experience have taught me that the best way to experience thin places is to be receptive to the possibility and let it wash over you when it happens. They are simple, unexplained and unplanned joys that come as a surprise – a divine gift from God.
All people don’t have the same thin places or spaces, either. Something that may draw me closer to God may not have the same impact on you. For me, Christmas Eve is one of those times when the distance between heaven and earth seems to disappear. I’m sure that this is because we are taught from our earliest childhood that God came to earth in the form of a fully human, yet fully divine, baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. God on earth – no wonder it seems like a thin place. Heaven becomes present on earth, in the form of a baby, that the world has worshipped for more than 2000 years.
When God the Father sent His Son to earth as a baby, there were greater appearances of angels and more references to angels than at any other time in the Scripture. Angels even announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in the fields – think of it, as Jesus makes His earthly human debut and the very foundation of Satan’s dominion is shaken to its core. This is a part of the Christmas story that we really don’t hear about too often. Come to think of it, this would be a great Christmas sermon. Later, during His 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus could have commanded legions of angels to help Him, but He didn’t…
When I hear the Christmas story, or Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, I can’t help but be caught up in the moment in total wonder and amazement at the omnipotence of God. The veil between the worlds shrinks, almost disappears, and I am transported to a place that allows me to be even closer to God than I thought possible.
When my youngest brother, Ken, died on Feb. 29,2020, I prayed in his final moments that God would send His angels to escort Ken into heaven. The sense of angelic presence, and the presence of God, has never been more real in my entire life – an incredibly wonderful thin space that happened as Ken left this world and entered heaven. And as quickly as that thin space came, it was gone – but not without great memories and assurances that Ken is in the presence of our Lord and Savior.
In the book of Revelation, John was transported in a vision to a thin space where he was privileged to witness heaven up close and personal. It must have been incredible for him to be in the presence of angels and other beings worshipping God.
Our verse for tonight is a verse we almost never hear associated with Christmas. Yet it recounts John’s encounter with God, face to face, as the distance between heaven and earth disappeared – one of John’s thin space experiences. John is speaking of his encounter with God and tells us, in Revelation 1:17-19, “I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” How incredible is that!
My encouragement tonight is that God wants each of us to experience our own thin spaces with Him. My prayer is that this Christmas Eve, you may experience a thin space as we celebrate the entrance of the fully human, yet divine, Jesus as we remember and celebrate His earthly arrival in Bethlehem. Have a Merry Christmas and a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…