There is a lot that gets said about heaven, but to me it is always God centered. Someone once gave this analogy of the picture of the dog wanting to get into the room where his owner is. I am this dog. I want to be this dog.
I was thinking about that when I stumbled over our border collie, Molly, several times the other night, as she was sleeping in front of the bedroom door. Usually, she sleeps in the garage. But it was getting so cold again and we had been gone all day and I did not have the heart to put her in the garage. But instead of staying on her carpet, she had to lie in front of the door. Now, I know, she could not have cared the least about the room, itself; she just wanted to be close to us. She is a very clingy dog.
The dog never wants to leave your side. She is single-mindedly focused on you (when it's not about getting food and drink.) She is not happy about any distance. So, we too long for heaven for the relationships. Firstly, this relationship is our "adoption as sons (daughters)". This adoption has already happened (the dog is in the house--big step), but now we are still lying in front of the bedroom door.
Paul puts it so much better:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Luther writes about the waiting, too:
We should learn to bring our eyes, our hearts, and souls to bear upon yonder life in heaven and in a lively hope await it with joy. For if we would be Christians, the ultimate objects of our quest should not be marrying, giving in marriage, buying selling, planting, building--activities that Christ says the wicked will be engaged in especially before the Last day. To be sure, we, too, must use these things in order to satisfy the needs of the body. But our ultimate quest should be something better and higher: the blessed inheritance in heaven that does not pass away.
Luther also writes about the way, not by works but by Christ, himself.
For when Christ became man, entered the ministry, and began to preach, the heavens opened; and they remain open. Since that time, since the Baptism of Christ at the Jordan, when heaven was opened it has never been closed, nor will it be closed, although with the eyes of the body we do not see it open. That heaven stands open and that God the Father speaks with us we see with spiritual eyes only.
Before the coming of Christ heaven was tightly closed, and the devil ruled with might. But through Christ and in Christ heaven is opened again; and Christians now see the open heaven and constantly hear God, their heavenly Father, speaking with them; and the good angels are constantly ascending and descending for us. For the word "this is My beloved Son" God is still speaking to us; and He will not cease to speak it, and heaven will not be closed, until the Last Day. When you come to Baptism or receive the Lord's supper or get absolution or hear a sermon, heaven is standing open, and we are hearing the voice of our heavenly Father; and all the acts that are performed come from heaven, which is open above us. For God is speaking with us, is governing us and taking care of us, and Christ is hovering over us, though in a manner invisible.
Yes, heaven is open,-- that must be being in the house and lying by the crack under the door. Awfully close to God. Well, so far the analogy with our dog. The point is a different one, here. All of God's gifts are available freely by his doing to all who would partake and take seriously his provisions.
And with this heaven open, we have already received it:
Eternal life begins here, in our hearts; for when we begin to believe in Christ, after we have been baptized, then, according to faith and the word, we are liberated from death, from sin, and from the devil. Therefore we have the beginning of life eternal and its first fruits in this life, a sort of mild foretaste; we have entered the lobby; but soon, divested of this flesh, we shall fully appreciate all.
It is all a very serious matter and not just about what will be nice and what is sentimental. This is not about cute stuff. Mrs. St. Nicolaas and I take much comfort that both Matt and Stefan were baptized and we had a good talk about that. Thanks, Tracy, I hope you don't mind me mentioning it here.