Beloved in Christ:
Surely it was a glorious and joyful day when work on the tabernacle was completed, and the cloud of the Lord’s Glory filled its sacred space. This was God’s dwelling place, the tent where His people could have free access to him, where they could look and say: “There is our God.” As long as the cloud remained in the Tabernacle, the people of Israel remained where they were. When the Cloud departed, the sons of Jacob would go with it.
During those forty years in the wilderness, this Tabernacle must have been a source of great comfort and joy for the people. When they sinned they knew that they could approach their Deliverer in repentance, and receive from Him divine pardon through the sacrifice of lambs, and bulls, and goats. When they were afraid for their lives, they could look to this tent and be of good cheer, knowing that their divine Protector was with them. He was “Emmanuel,” “God with us,” during those forty years of wandering. With a cloud of the Lord on the Tabernacle by day and fire by night, no one was going to mess with the children of Israel.
Of course God’s presence was not confined to this tent of meeting. He is above all, and in all. He is everywhere. That is true. But it is not true that He grants access and approach to sinful men everywhere. It is not true that men can grasp God, can take hold of him everywhere for his salvation. For this purpose God opens up a way of access, so that the children of men might take hold of him, might receive his blessings, and find peace in the midst of so many sorrows and difficulties. It was for this purpose that God located his saving and merciful presence in the Tabernacle for His people.
This was a good arrangement, a good set-up for the time being. It was certainly a good thing for the sons of Jacob. But this was not ideal. Even with the cloud of God’s Glory filling the Tent of Meeting, the people still did could not approach Him without the mediation of a priest, without the spilling of lamb’s blood, for they were sinful, and God was holy. Surely something better was coming, something more permanent was being planned in the mind of God. Perhaps when they reached the Promised Land, a more permanent and a more perfect location could be found for God’s presence. A Temple was built, and then destroyed, and then rebuilt, and then destroyed again, and then rebuilt by Herod the Great.
The Temple was great. But it wasn’t ideal; it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t permanent. God made that quite clear when he allowed the foreign armies to lay it waste. Something more was needed. Something better was on the horizon. A new tabernacle? Indeed. But not one made with hands. Not a tabernacle made of wood and brick and mortar. This new and greater Tent of Meeting would be made of flesh and bones, blood and muscle. It would be fully man, yet the fullness of God would dwell there. And God’s presence would never depart from this tabernacle. God would always dwell with His people and be their God, they could always look to this new and greater Tabernacle and find there their Creator, their Lord, their Protector, and Deliverer.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt,” or more literally, “tented among us. And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Finally a perfect Tabernacle had been erected by the Lord Himself, right there in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Son of Mary, born in Bethlehem was ironically the true house of bread Himself, for He is the true Bread that has come down from heaven, which if a man eats he will not grow hungry.
If the day when the first Tent of Meeting was erected was a day filled with joy and glory, if that first Tabernacle brought comfort and peace to the sons of Jacob, how much more the day when the Lord suddenly came to His temple, that is, the Temple of His Body! If angels sang for joy on the day when the Cloud of the Lord’s Glory filled the Tabernacle, how much more on the day when the whole fullness of the deity came and dwelt bodily in the Person of Christ Jesus! “Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for him!”
A new song for a new and better Tabernacle. In Christ God has once again granted access and approach to sinful men. In the flesh of Christ, God has opened up a way for sinners to come before His holy throne and receive from Him divine pardon. In Christ, in His holy Body, God has taken up a permanent residence, and invites all to look to Him and be saved. Christ’s Body is the new and better Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, the place where God comes to man and man comes to God.
And how fitting that we should eat and drink His body and blood today, when we celebrate this Festival of the Nativity of our Lord, seeing that this food that we eat is the same Jesus that was born of Mary, that suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and risen, and now enters our mouths and makes us one with Him, forgiving our sins, and granting us life and peace. Christ said before ascending into heaven, “Lo, I am with you always to the very close of the age.” And how true this is. Jesus is “Emmanuel,” God with us. God with us in the font and on the altar for our salvation. Amen.