Then Solomon… spread out his hands towards heaven and said…”But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! … May your eyes be open towards this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays towards this place. Hear .. your people Israel when they pray towards this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling-place, and when you hear, forgive…. bring them back to the land….teach them the right way to live…deal with each man according to what he does, since you know his heart…. do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you…. uphold their cause..
(1 Kgs 8.27-31,34,36,39,43&45)
How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. In the shelter of your presence you hide them… in your dwelling place you keep them safe…Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
(Ps 31. 19,20&24)
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will with them and be their God.”
The list of people to whom I want to send gifts isn’t getting shorter these, days, but longer! The number of people whose presence in my life is cause of deep thanksgiving grows as the years pass, and I appreciate them more, valuing each unique creation and the privilege of sharing in their time on earth. I find myself frustrated as there is nothing that I want to give them so much as my own presence – nothing else matches the weight and worth of what I receive from them. And for me that can never be possible! I cannot be with all whom I love all the time, so I have to find some token by which I convey the honour of being called friend, having a part in their story.
This ability to value people, wanting nothing as much as their presence, is something that reflects (perhaps feebly), the character of our heavenly Father. The nature of God as Trinity is a mystery beyond human comprehension, but it does show that our God is relational, and the Trinity are continually delighting in one another – presence matters and is at the core of the eternal joy of Father, Son and Spirit. Remember the agony of Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross, when that song of communion was broken?
The bible shows us through the great narrative arc beginning with the creation of people in God’s image, that it was always God’s desire to dwell in uninterrupted fellowship with humankind. In the mystery of divine love, we are made to thrive in his presence like nowhere else.
And our fundamental rebellion against His Sovereignty has cast us out – carrying an unassuaged hunger for God’s presence always deep in our hearts, and seeking by all and any means to satisfy ourselves elsewhere.
The tabernacle, and later the temple were symbols of God’s presence – appointed places, surrounded by rituals which reminded his people of His holiness and their need for rescue from sin. But it is only with the coming of Jesus that God’s full intention is revealed – for God once more to dwell among humankind, to know and be known, and by his presence to bring life.
In order for us to receive the gift of His presence, and in turn be able to glorify him by our presence – to be together as God always desired – something needed to happen. The price of rebellion had to be paid, and the brokenness of humankind healed and transformed into perfection.
The incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God in human form, was the essential first step in that redemption, atonement (payment for sin), and transformation. God is giving us himself, so that we might in turn give ourselves to him, and one day, in the new creation, those gifts will be finally and fully realised. On that day, all our Christmas hopes will be realised, and we will be together with the one who has loved us best and longest, known and knowing, without shame and with no more to fear.
Until that day comes, we live in hope, confident in Jesus’ redeeming work, loving one another and encouraging one another to persevere in good works and joyful, godly living. Friends, I wish you a Christmas celebration which speaks peace and love from God, and assures you of his presence with you by his Spirit, until there is no more need of faith, and we see Him face to face.