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We’re at the end of our look at the book of Exodus. This is where we’ve always been going. We’ve spoken of Deliverance and Worship. We’ve spoken of Power and Presence. We’ve talked about how the Israelites, and by extension, us, had been delivered not only from something but for something.
This morning we’re talking about something new. We’re on the brink of Advent friends, the season in which we welcome Christ. Christ coming into the world. God with us. The story we’re talking about is really Advent for the ancient Israelites.
Thirteen chapters devoted to the building of the tabernacle – the tent. The place of worship. The place where God will dwell among his people. Seven chapters to describe how to build it, how worship should be conducted, what the priests should wear. Six chapters to describe how it was built and how Moses and the people of Israel did all that the Lord commanded. As one commentator put it, if you’re able to slog through the whole thing, then congratulations.
We should slog through the whole thing though. It’s important. It’s a big deal. It’s a thing, as the kids say. It’s God doing something new. God had made himself known in a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud from the Red Sea days. God had made himself known at the top of a mountain. God had met Moses in a tent of meeting outside the Israelite camp. Now God is spelling out how God is going to dwell in the middle of their camp. God in the middle of the mess. God in the middle of our mess.
We’ve said throughout these weeks that these stories point us forward to something else. The deliverance from Egypt pointing forward to Christ’s victory over sin and death. It’s the same thing here and how wonderful that we’re looking at this story on the eve of Advent. God dwelling among his people. God on the move with his people. We’ve talked about the image of the travelling caravan for the people of God – for the church. A group of people banded together sharing a common faith, a common spirit, a common Kingdom cause, moving toward a common destination.
God is moving with us. It was no longer about having to seek God on the top of a mountain. God would be in our midst. God would be in the middle of our mess. There are really interesting details when we read about the construction of the tabernacle. We get the word “tabernacle” from the Latin for “tent” by the way. Those of us who are outdoorsy (as many Canadians are!) can identify. The poles that carried the Ark of the Covenant were never to be removed. They were to be ready to go at any given moment.
Another really interesting thing to note is that there was no floor covering. It’s like a reminder that worship of God is never to be separated from our day to day life, which can be messy as a desert floor. I’ve told the story before about one of my first years as a pastor here. It was Christmas Eve at OOTC. Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday. We had a bunch of people including children who had come out to lead everyone in Christmas carols. The piano was in the centre of the room, all the tables for eating ranged around it. People in Santa hats and wearing decorations and all that kind of thing. A really good joyous time. We were about to start, Rocky was about to play. All of a sudden it’s chairs, screeching, shouts. A fight had broken out. Dixon Hall staff were mostly on top of it, but it was a few guys looking to get at one guy, so as one was pulled away another would jump in. It was protracted and ugly. I leaned into Rocky and said, “Just start playing!” It was “Silent Night” ironically. I thought it might calm things down. It didn’t. I silently asked God “Why a fight tonight of all nights?” I heard God answer “I came down into the mess 2,000 years ago, I call people to be in the mess too.”
God coming into the mess of the desert was detailed. It was God’s plan. Again we may wonder why all the intricate details. Contrast the description of how to build the tent and what the priests should wear and even how the olive oil and incense should be made with the Israelites’ own plan. Throw a golden calf together. Proclaim to the people “These are the gods who brought you out of Egypt.” Because we want something tangible right? We want something visible. We want our gods to be something we can touch. We want to be the authors of our own salvation. We look to all the things we look to in our world to save us.
In between the plans for the tent and the build, we have the episode of the golden calf. The people were running wild. God was ready to turn his back on them. To withdraw his presence. Moses pleads on their behalf. God forgives.
So this is the story. Instructions are given on how to live with the presence of God in their midst. People go their own way. God forgives and provides the means by which his people can live in communion with him.
Do you see how this story points forward like crazy?
God works through creation to bring us back to him. Why all the details about the construction? To show that God will work through creation to bring us back to him – to re-create, which is what we’ve been saying God is doing throughout this story. Acacia wood. Olive oil. Brass. Silver. Gold. Gemstones on the priest’s breastplate. Twelve of them. Animal skins. Textiles. When we talked about the Passover we talked about God using tangible things like blood and bread as signs of his grace, as ways we can begin to get our minds wrapped around God’s love and mercy. God using created things to restore our relationship to God. God one day entering creation in a whole new way in the person of his son.
We’re invited to take part in this re-creating work. We’re given the gifts to do so. Everyone is. Look at 31:1-6. Isn’t it fascinating that the first person that the Bible describes as being filled with the divine spirit is not one of the patriarchs, not even Moses himself. It’s a builder. “I have given skill to all the skillful, God says, so that they may make all I have commanded you.” The picture that is drawn throughout these chapters is one of ongoing work. The story does not spend a lot of time describing the completed tent. God’s recreating work – Christ’s redeeming work – bringing all things back to himself – is one that is ongoing. To follow Christ is to have our stories caught up in this great redemption story. To take part in all the different ways in which we take part.
The Israelites answer this call. Their hearts were stirred. 36:2 – “Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the LORD had given skill (the initiative is always God’s – our call is to respond), everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work.” Everyone whose heart was stirred. Lord stir our hearts! This line has been translated “Everyone whose heart lifted him” and “Everyone whose spirit moved him.”
Everyone whose heart lifted him.
Everyone whose heart lifted her.
The women make an appearance again. They’ve been crucial since the beginning of this story of course. They began to bring freewill offerings for the sanctuary. They kept bringing the freewill offerings every morning until it got to the point where they had too much. What a problem to have! 36:6-7 “So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ So the people were restrained from bringing; for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.”
They were all in. Do you want to be such a community of faith?
Pray with me that God will lift our hearts.
Because the thing is, the extent to which God’s promises will be fulfilled in and through us is dependent on our openness to God working in and through us. Our seeking God. Our seeking God individually, in groups, together as one big group. Our praise, our proclamation, our service, our prayers. Jesus’ brother James put it so well – “Draw near to the Lord and he will draw near to you.” God among us. I don’t say these things because I believe they’re not happening. We had a young German student with us last summer. As I was saying goodbye to him he told me “God is in this place.” How incredibly encouraging! The recently forgiven people of Israel provide a model here as the text continually tells us they do all that the Lord commanded of them.
Because they’ve been delivered for something. We’ve been delivered for something.
And God is with us. The work that is done by the Israelites prepares a place for God to dwell. A place in the middle of the camp when they’re settled. A presence that will go before them when they’re on the move. Moses finished the work, just as the Lord had commanded. They had prepared a dwelling place.
We’re on the brink of Advent ourselves. Is it any wonder that John uses the same kind of language when he talks of Christ? God was doing something new in our story. So new that 13 chapters are devoted to it. This was pointing forward to the new thing God was going to do some thousand years later. Those shocking words of John – let us never get too used to them. And the Word became flesh and lived among us. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. The Word became a baby and pitched his tent among us. The Word became a man and moved into the neighbourhood. Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting when the cloud settled on it and the glory of the Lord filled it. Years later John was able to write “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
What is truth? This is truth. God has made his dwelling place among us in the person of Christ Jesus.
God makes his dwelling place among us in the person of the Holy Spirit. God with us through the power and presence of the Spirit. Claim this promise friends. The extent to which it will be realized in and through us is the extent to which we leave ourselves open to it. We look at the season of Advent as a time to prepare our hearts. A time for Christ to be born in us today, as the carol goes. May we be like Moses and Bezalel and Oholiab. Pray that God would lift our hearts. May the lines that Charles Wesley wrote about Advent be our prayer – “Love divine all loves excelling/Joy of heaven to earth come down!/Fix in us thy humble dwelling/All thy faithful mercies crown!” If you don’t have a daily spiritual practice follow the CBOQ Advent reader with us. If you do add it.
Though he wouldn’t know the presence of which John writes on this earth, Moses was keenly aware of God’s presence with him. In a play called The Green Pastures, playwright Mark Connelly has a scene in which Moses is sitting while the tribes of Israel file past him to receive his blessing before entering the Promised Land. Moses sits shoulders slumped, knowing that entering the land of promise was not his lot. As the sound of the Israelites’ marching grows fainter, the light on the stage dims. A figure appears behind Moses approaches and puts a hand on his shoulder. It’s the presence of God. Moses raises his head and asks – “You is with me Lord, ain’t you? You’s with me.” The Lord responds “Course I is my child. Course I is.”
Of course he is. May this truth be made ever clearer to us as we look forward to promises fulfilled.