The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Day
December 24, 2019
St. John’s Lutheran Church—Chicago, IL
In the name of + Jesus.
When God led His people out of Egypt through the Red Sea, He led them by a pillar of cloud and fire. This cloud and fire continued to guide them to Mount Sinai where it settled with unrestrained majesty—lightnings and thunders and fear and trembling. Even the edges of the mountain were deadly: And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death (Ex 19:12).
But shortly thereafter, God instructed Moses to build a house for His glory. Moses had the foundation laid, the frame raised, and the covering overlaid. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34). Inside, the glory was overwhelming; but the tent contained God’s glory, hid it from the view of God’s people. It was in their midst, but rather than a manifestation of fear and anger and potential death, the tabernacle became the place of reconciliation, the place of mercy, the place sacrifice. In theological terms, the place of propitiation—where the sins of the people were transferred to the shed blood of the sacrifice, and the righteousness of God was delivered.
For generations, the tabernacle housed God’s glory and was the definite place of God’s merciful presence on earth. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys (Ex 40:36–38).
Where the glory of God went, His people went. And where His people were, there God was. God dwelt among His people in a definite form, in a frame covered with skins, hiding a glory that would otherwise mean total destruction. But in that tent, the burning fire became a means of life. The suffocating cloud became a rejuvenating mist.
God’s glory dwelt in the tabernacle of Israel. That is, it did until King David. He had the idea that, since God’s people had settled down in the promised land, perhaps it was time for God to settle down, too. He proposed the idea of a permanent temple, an idea that God rejected outright. A temple made of stone and brick and metal would mean that God would no longer dwell among His people in a definite location, but that He would dwell in a fixed location. Instead of going with His people, His people would need to go to him.
This would be a momentous shift in Israel’s history, a fundamental change in the way people viewed their relationship with God. God’s glory indeed dwelt in the temple, but it was not the same. The sacrifices were still in effect; God’s reconciliation continued to be carried out (Jesus Himself traveled to the temple to celebrate the appointed festivals). But the encounter with God was now initiated by the people and not by God.
The prophet Ezekiel has a vision of God’s glory departing from the temple because of the sin of the people and the injustice they have wrought. Yet after God’s judgment, He receives a vision of a new temple, and God’s glory returning. He manifests Himself anew to dwell with His people.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and [tabernacled] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (vv 1–5, 14).
The new tabernacle is not one built with hands, but a form knit together in the womb of the Virgin Mary and quickened by the power of the Holy Spirit. This tabernacle is not just covered with the skins, but it itself comprised of human skin and bones, flesh and blood. It is the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, in which the glory of God now dwells.
And once again, God goes with His people. It is not necessary to make a pilgrimage to God’s fixed presence halfway around the world, but He comes to us. The flesh of Jesus clothes the glory of God, who is the Word of God, who was from the beginning, who was with God from the beginning.
In Him is life. Not just biological life—respiration, pulmonary function, neurons firing. In Him was true Life with a capital L. Life the way God intended it. And that life was the light of men. Science reports that at the moment of conception, there is a flash of light. Light and life to all He brings / Risen with healing in His wings.
The glory of God in the flesh is not a glory of fear and trembling, of clouds and thunder. We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. St. John goes on to say, For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known (Jn 1:16–18).
The grace of Jesus is a grace that supersedes the grace of the tabernacle. He goes with us now, not to give Laws (although Moses still remains), but to speak His grace and truth in answer to Moses’ condemnation. Just as the sacrifices in the tabernacle, and later the temple, were a source of reconciliation, now the final reconciliation has been accomplished in the sacrifice of the new Tabernacle. The body and blood He offered and shed give glory to God and grace to men.
Whenever Moses needed to speak to God, He went into the tabernacle. Now, Gods speaks to us through His Son. He is the Word of God, who dwells with us.
The Word Tabernacles with Us in the Flesh of Jesus
Jacob W Ehrhard
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