Where is God’s tabernacle today?
While the Israelites were in the wilderness, God wanted to have a place to be in the center of his people. So, in addition to detailing how they were to live, he provided instructions about creating a tent where he would dwell – from the dimensions of the structure to the colors of the decorative thread. Bezalel, who God had filled with his Spirit and skill, led many artisans to create this tent and its accompanying furnishings. This was a holy, sacred place. When it was finished, and Moses had made sure it was set up as God dictated, the Glory of the Lord entered. Never before, since sin had entered the world, had God been so present in the midst of his people.
It was easy to see this was a holy place. Set up in the center of all the other tents, it had special rules surrounding it. Not just anyone could enter, especially the place where God resided, the Holy of Holies. For the average Israelite, God remained distant. All they saw were the structure of the tent, the rituals, and the priests. It was beautiful, but inaccessible. Eventually God became lost for the people, locked away. They worshiped the external forms instead of the God to whom the forms were pointing.
The celebration of Christmas has taken a similar turn. The ideal image is beautiful – if you can get it. If you want to have a good Christmas you better have a properly decorated tree; a well-dressed, happy family around the dinner table; and the latest toys and clothes for gifts. This is when the Christmas spirit will come and fill your lives – or at least is evidence of it.
However, what happens if your Christmas is spent in the hospital, or with a father who is dying, or with your family on the street? What if you are in a barracks a world away from your family or you have no money for any gifts? Where is Christmas? Only priests could enter God’s presence – and it seems that only the privileged people today can have the full Christmas experience today. The trappings of the first tabernacle that were to provide a way to God eventually became a barrier to really knowing him; and the trappings of Christmas can be a barrier to people knowing God today.
Fortunately, another tabernacle entered the picture just over 2,000 years ago. This time God did not require a structure built by human hands. Human flesh became his tent, his tabernacle. God’s glory, the same glory that filled the tent in the desert, now filled an infant in a manger. An ordinary birth. Later on this living tabernacle moved among people, and not always in the best places.
If we really want to celebrate Christmas, it’s not about making a winter wonderland, but going into the places where people’s lives are torn just as this infant, Jesus, would do. Jesus enters the hospital and sits by the bed and stands with the soldier away from home. Amazingly we don’t have to go to this tabernacle. He comes to us and we are changed.