When we talk about Christmas, we’re talking about the incarnation, about the fullness of God being found to be suddenly and mysteriously human. We Christians get to point at Jesus, someone poor, homeless, gentle, controversial, and despised, and say, “That’s who our God is.” Christmas and incarnation are the good news that God is not far away. God is near, intimately near. And actually, in order to talk about Christmas, we can turn to Matthew or Luke as we often do. We can also turn, with unexpected ease, to the Torah.
Long before Mary or Joseph or shepherds or wise men, God still had a relentless desire to be near his people. In Exodus 25, God says to Moses, “Have the Israelites make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.” This is what the whole exodus has been building toward. The burning bush, the ten plagues, the Red Sea – it’s all been leading us to the sanctuary, the tabernacle. God’s purpose for the exodus was to be able to dwell in the midst of his people. The tabernacle is God’s way of saying, “My beloved children, I want to be where you are.” God’s desire is that he and Israel would experience each other’s presence in the most meaningful and most intimate way. At the end of the book of Exodus, we read, “The glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34) It works! God is dwelling among his people! Of course, Israel must learn how to take God’s presence seriously and adopt his holiness as their own (that’s what Leviticus is all about), which they so often fail to do, but that doesn’t change this presence as God’s ultimate goal for his people.
The Gospel of John begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” In Genesis 1, we see that God creates by speaking a Word (“Let there be light”). John tells us that this Word was behind the creation of anything and everything that was made. Behind the creation is this living, vibrant, overflowing, divine creative energy that makes all things and holds all things together. And just as we learn from the tabernacle, this divine creative energy is not far away, but is intimately near. John goes on: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.” Sound familiar? John has now transitioned us from Genesis 1 to Exodus 25 and Exodus 40. In fact, this word “dwelt” here literally means “built a tabernacle.” By becoming flesh, God has tabernacled among us. The living, vibrant, overflowing, divine creative energy that makes all things and hold all things together has been found to be suddenly and mysteriously human. God’s greatest desire is complete union with his people. That’s Torah. That’s Christmas. It’s everything.
We rejoice in the incarnation because God, in all his fullness and glory, has not waited for us to find him. He’s found us. We rejoice in the incarnation in order to be awakened to the presence of God at all times and in all places.