Monday, December 25, 2023

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Day - Ex 40:17-21, 34-38


Christmas Day

                                                                                      Ex 40:17-21, 34-38



          Amy’s flower hobby/business – or is it business/hobby, I am not exactly sure these days – has continued to grow.  She has had me add raised beds so that she can grow more flowers.  She has bought tools that she needs for working the flower beds.  The whole enterprise has reached the point where she needs a “she shed” – a dedicated barn building where she can store all of her flower stuff.

          However, with three kids in college, the barn will have to wait.  Finances don’t allow it right now.  So as a temporary measure, Amy ordered a small and rather inexpensive metal shed.  The shed arrived in a box and it was our job to assemble it.

          Building the shed was quite an experience.  Sometimes you do get what you paid for.  The plans for the shed were quite unclear.  The parts didn’t all fit exactly as they should.  The hot weather didn’t help as we struggled to build it.  In the end, everything turned out fine and the shed serves its purpose.  But it was not an experience I would want to repeat again.

          We learn from Exodus that Israel’s experience was completely different when they built the tabernacle.  The tabernacle was built from the best materials that had been donated by the people.  The plans for the tabernacle could not have been more certain because Yahweh himself provided the pattern for it.  And the builders were certainly more skilled since God filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God so that he had ability, knowledge, and craftsmanship for constructing the tabernacle.

          In our Old Testament lesson for Christmas we hear about the day when Moses set up the completed tabernacle for the first time.  God had commanded that the tabernacle should be made for  a reason.  He said, “And let them make me a tabernacle, that I may dwell in their midst.”  The tabernacle was to be the means by which God would dwell in the midst of his people.  Israel would not have to wonder where God was present for them.

          The pattern God had given described not only the tabernacle itself, but also all of its furnishings.  Most important among these was the ark of the covenant, and its cover, the mercy seat.  Moses set up the tabernacle and placed the ark of the covenant inside the rear third of the tabernacle that was set off by a curtain.

          Next we learn, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” 

          God had said that the tabernacle would be the means by which he would dwell in the midst of his people.  When the tabernacle was set up, he demonstrated the truth of this.  A cloud filled the tabernacle as the glory of Yahweh filled the structure. This glory was the perceptible presence of God. And because of God’s presence, Moses was not able to enter it.

          Even after the priests were able to enter the tabernacle, it would continue to be the place of God’s presence.  The cover – the mercy seat with its overarching cherubim – was described as God’s throne.  Enthroned upon the cherubim in the Holy of Holies, God was present in the midst of Israel.  The tabernacle itself was set in the very center of the camp, and so Yahweh was literally in the midst of the nation. God had given his located presence in the midst of his people.

          God’s action in the Old Testament pointed forward to what he would do in Jesus Christ.  It is therefore not surprising that the central feature of Israel’s religious life finds its fulfillment in the Lord.  John makes this clear in the Gospel lesson for today.

          He begins the Gospel by saying, 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.” With the language of “the Word” the evangelist refers to the Son of  God.  We learn that the Son is God, just as the Father is. He is the creator of all things.

          Yet then John adds, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  He announces that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  The Son of God became man. 

In order to describe this John uses the language of the tabernacle since the Greek verb used here is based on the same root that is used to translate the word tabernacle.  Along with this he employs the word “glory,” just as we hear about the glory of Yahweh in our text.  John is telling us that all that had been true of the tabernacle is now fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

The tabernacle had been the located presence of God in the midst of the people.  This role was later taken on by the temple as the ark of the covenant was placed in a permanent structure. But at Christmas, the fulfillment of the tabernacle entered into the world.  God’s located presence was found now not in a structure but in the flesh of the baby in Bethlehem.  God demonstrated that he truly is Immanuel – God with us – for in Jesus Christ we meet the incarnate Son of God.

The tabernacle pointed forward to what God did at Christmas as the Son of God became flesh – as God became man.  Yet it also prefigured the reason that Christ was present in the world.  The tabernacle was the location where the Old Testament sacrifices were offered.  In particular it was the place where the sin offering was made.  Through this means God provided forgiveness.

God dwelt in midst of his people by means of the tabernacle. However, Israel was a sinful people.  The presence of their sin was like a contagion that infected the tabernacle.  The people’s sin and the holy God could not permanently dwell together.  So once a year the high priest entered the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement.  He sprinkled the blood of a sacrifice on the cover of the ark – on the mercy seat.  In this way the impurity of Israel’s sin was removed so that the holy God could continue to dwell in the midst of Israel.

Like Israel, we are a sinful people.  Because of our sin, we cannot dwell with the holy God.  Paul told the Colossians, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”  Our sin evokes God’s wrath.  It brings God’s judgment.

The Son of God became flesh in order to remove this sin and rescue us from judgment.  He became man so that he could be nailed to a cross.  He came to be the sacrifice for our sin.  St. Paul used language related to the mercy seat when he said, For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

The Son of God became man in order to offer himself as the sacrifice for sin and win us forgiveness. But that was not the end of his saving work. He also entered into the world to free us from death. The dead body of the incarnate One was placed in a tomb.  Then on the third day, God raised him from the dead.  He rose with a body transformed so that it can never die again.  In Jesus Christ, God has begun the resurrection of the Last Day and we will share in that resurrection when he returns in glory.

We now wait the return of the risen and ascended Lord. Yet in the incarnation God has shown us how he continues to work.  The God who acted in the located means of the flesh of Christ continues to use located means in our midst. He does this through his Sacraments.

Through water and the word of Baptism we have shared in the death of Christ.  We were baptized into his death – we were buried with him – and so we are forgiven. God has given us something in which we can believe – something we can hang onto. He gives us baptism as the object of faith – faith that trusts his promise attached to water.

And in the Sacrament of the Altar our Lord continues to locate himself in our midst.  The One who became true God and true man works the miracle of giving us his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  He comes to us as he delivers the forgiveness that he won on the cross.

Today we hear how the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle when Moses set it up.  God located himself in the midst of his people, and the tabernacle became the place where sacrifices were offered to God.  God acted in this way because it pointed forward to what he did at Christmas.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us as the Son of God became man without ceasing to be God.  He entered our world to be the sacrifice for our sin.  Now the risen Lord continues to give us forgiveness through means that are located in our midst.  He deals with our whole person – body and soul – as we look forward to the final victory of the resurrection. 








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