Around 6th grade, my family bubble wrapped and boxed everything we owned of great value and absolute necessity. We were making our way across the Red Sea. The Moses in my mother shared the revelation of the promised land just blocks away. Where bikes left unattended were not in danger of being taken and sirens no longer battled with the natural sounds of nature. Two stories high, four bedrooms, two living rooms – we were moving to the land that, from our vantage point, was flowing with milk and honey. I had never been more proud to bring home friends.
Yet, our humble abode came with a learning curve. The comfort of a new neighborhood encouraged me and my siblings to often let our guard down. Windows would be left open and worst of all, the gateways to our modest mansion would sometimes go unlocked overnight. With twice the amount of doors in comparison with our previous home and a significant increase in square feet to cover before bedtime, things would often slip through the cracks. My parents were not very happy about this, to say the least. The reality is parents never let their guard down; they always have the security of the castle in mind.
Therefore, in alignment with the practices surrounding ancient city gates, just before sunset, all the doors were expected to be closed. We knew that this was not only for the sake of keeping unwanted things out but also for the preservation and community of what was kept within. At the doors, friends would come to barter with my mother on my behalf for an hour or two of playtime. Neighbors would trade their foreign delicacies for a taste of Nigerian traditions that were baked into my mother’s chicken and sealed in her popular fried rice. Police officers seeking justice halted at our front doors, allowing any and all issues to unfold on the steps of our home. The doors of our house were the gateway and point of connection for so much as in days of old. There was a belief then that lingers on to today: in order to possess the city, you must possess the gates.
So, finally, before we all were tucked away, my mother or stepfather would make their rounds, ensuring all windows were closed and all doors were locked. Locked doors ensured a better ability to reign over that which was theirs. All would be well throughout the night until the safety of the light returned with the Sun.
In reading Revelation 21, I’m am struck by the “with-ness” of God. I think it is fair to say that John was struck by it as well. He laid out the fact that there will be no temple because the Lord and the Lamb will be with us and they will be the temple. He repeats that the glory of God will fill New Jerusalem so much so that there will be no need for a sun. Night shall be no more. The necessity of the Sun will be laid to rest. The effortless glory of God – the ultimate revelation of His character – will sustain us. John goes on to say, “Its gates shall never be shut by day, for there shall be no night there.” Literally, there will be no night in New Jerusalem because the glory of God will never give up.
However, as I read into the importance of ancient city gates and tried to ground that in my own experiences with the gateways to my family’s home, I realized how significant this heavenly reality will be. Essentially, we will have the ultimate “emmanuel”. The “with-ness” of God will be so thick throughout all of creation that fear, self-protection, hiding, exclusion – all of the things that cause us to lock the doors and close the gates WILL BE NO MORE! Shalom at its best means continual light and open doors.
As much as I am tempted to continue rephrasing this mind-boggling thought, I feel that I must go deeper. Colossians encourages us to set our minds on things above while simultaneously encouraging us to love and live well here in our day. With this in mind, I wonder how to embrace this beautiful arriving reality with the reality of today. Around the world, gates are being closed. Doors remain shut. Darkness continually exists in the hearts of many so much so that many long for “morning”.
I could take a shot and attempt to diagnose the pain and dismiss the tension. But I cannot. I don’t have the answers. My heart fully longs and rests in the hope of the new heaven and new earth and it fully longs for justice for those spaces desperate for the “Sun”/Son. I rest knowing that Emmanuel has already come. He saved. He redeemed and by way of the Spirit, He is with us.