Christmas in the Tabernacle

We all sat together in the rare quiet of the morning, weaving little strips of $0.39 felt together. I cut the purple and red pieces, and showed them how to arrange them in a simple basketweave pattern before we hot glued them together. Such an easy project but so fascinating to their young minds; taking something singular and making it come into a whole.

They moulded the clay diligently, as if each piece of bread and the stone tablets were meant for something greater than their simple little purpose. I watched as my daughter meticulously painted every spec of the little dish destined to be the bronze laver. To my mother’s eyes it was a beautiful sight to watch her work so carefully, as though she took great pride in her task. The little sheep and goat figurines stood nearby, as if they were watching her, knowing the laver she was making was there to cleanse their pretend blood.

Our felt curtains done, the alter and other furniture made, the stone tablets and rod safely inside the ark, our tabernacle was finished. It was just a simple art project. But my children knew its significance. They knew how important it was to treat the whole thing with respect because the place they were making represented God’s presence among His people. His dwelling place. His home.

Cardboard and glitter glue were just the vehicle. Eventually they’ll end up sitting out on the curb in the recycle bin. But the process of making the tabernacle will continue. I wonder how many times they will stand before the alters in their own lives, dying to themselves and offering themselves up. How often will they stand before the golden table and pray for manna, enough just to get them through a day? Will they remember the beautiful menorahs and how they lit up the dark? Will they smell the frankincense and say a prayer of thanksgiving? And how often will they go behind that veil torn in two and visit with their Maker? How much time will they spend on their knees, humbling themselves in His glorious presence? And when they leave, will their faces radiate like Moses?

For us in our home, Christmas is a season for celebrating light and God’s generous presence among us. Two trees of light bathe our home in a glow; one Christmas tree lighting up our tradition and one menorah shining light on our adoption. Like the two trees of light in the tabernacle, these symbols remind us to praise Yahweh for tabernacling in our midst, revealing that He is the life and the wisdom we seek.

For many in my faith community, this year has not been one of certainty or praise. It has been a long haul through a barren and chaotic wilderness. It has been a time of brothers bickering, grumbling, and slandering each other. A time of mistrust and doubt, and I’m certain some have questioned if leaving Egypt was really worth it. Broken people leading broken people in a very broken world, the enemy in hot pursuit waiting to devour us outside the door. And we wonder who is there to step in and stop it all? What happens when we have lost sight of the fire before us? Where is the mighty leader–the promised prophet–to stand in the gap in intercede on our behalf when we have failed?

As we gather around our nativity sets and our Christmas trees, as we light candles in our windows and homes and sanctuaries, may we come to see the reality of the good news proclaimed to the shepherds. When we fail, we when break the promises we made, when our friends, family, or leaders who we trusted let us down and deceive us, when we fail to be a blessing, when we fail to live out the good news and deceive ourselves, when we fall so incredibly short, Yahweh comes and stands in the gap Himself.

He comes to our wilderness, and shows us a little blueprint for making Eden in our hearts, and fills us with His glory.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory…full of grace and truth. John 1:14

We are so unworthy of the gift that we celebrate at Christmas, and recognizing that is what brings the great joy.

The tabernacle was just a symbol of God’s presence with us. But the lesson it teaches is far reaching. Because the tabernacle is not out in the wilderness anymore; it’s right here. Right in the heart of all who call upon the Name of the God of Israel. His Spirit dwells in us, ready to make us new. And so as I teach my children about this mysterious ancient temple, I pray over them. I pray that the symbols of the tabernacle find their way into the makeup of my children. I pray they seek their Father, that they look to the old paths and find rest for their souls.

By the light of the two trees in our home right now we play with our humble little cereal box. We rehearse the rituals, arrange the furniture, and take turns descending the sparkly felt that represents the glory cloud. And I show my children how our nativity set means the exact same thing. Eden here. Yahweh bringing salvation. “Come!” I say. “Come and see what God has done.”

Immanuel, God with us. Here in this tent in our wilderness, providing for us, standing in the gap of our failures. Both blessing us and waiting to bless us with His presence and ready to remake us in His image.

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