Monday, January 03, 2011

Christmastide, part four


We sometimes forget that in the time before Christ entered the world, God’s presence was congealed within the Holy of Holies in the Temple. So it was with great religious ardor and spiritual significance that pilgrims journeyed from all over the ancient world to reach the Temple and offer sacrifices there. Jesus understood the holiness of the Temple, just as he understood that the Temple was where he would learn to please his Father.

We ought not forget that the Temple was special.

Entering the Temple was like entering God’s secret lair

hidden behind the bookcases,

holding the original Torah,

accessed by pressing a hidden switch

beneath a fancy lamp.

Despite the fact that the church and the Temple are not the same, I still cringe a bit when I hear people speak derisively about the church. If nothing else, the church is a spiritual kind of Temple-descendant, and I think we’ve allowed our awe to erode whenever we treat it so lightly.

But the Temple is no longer standing, for it was destroyed both figuratively (see John 2) and literally (by the Romans in AD 70). Furthermore, the clear teaching of Scripture is that we are now the Temple – the secret location of God’s Presence – both individually (see 1 Corinthians 3.16-17) and corporately as the church (see Ephesians 2.19-22). Which means that the Holy Place is in you. When we come together as His church, that holy Presence is once again manifested in us (see Matthew 18.20).

While he may have declared that "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Luke 9:58), Jesus was never truly homeless. God the Father was always in residence in Jesus' heart. And, after his twelve-year old truant-trip to the Temple, Jesus learned to take his Father's house with him wherever he went.

Jesus could never be lost or alone:

even when he argued with the scribes and Pharisees

he used to learn from,

even as he endured the cluelessness

of his uncomprehending disciples,

even as he separated himself

from his confused and doubting family,

even as he felt the heat of the political power's anger,

even as he faced betrayal by those he loved most,

even as he hung on the cross.

Jesus' human parents taught him how hard love will search for the lost.

Len Sweet, 21st century American futurist and theologian

Always and everywhere Jesus was at home with God's presence and love. As an adult, Jesus took the knowledge of this intimate, unbreakable bond between himself and the Father on the road. Everywhere he went was home. Everyone who loved him was family. Jesus isn’t the only one that experiences this kind of everywhere-at-homeness – all lovers and followers of Christ do too.

Let me give you an example of how this works in real life:

Have you ever traveled for business or school and met people meant to be your chaperones or hosts or guides? They’re usually polite and hospitable, but things are always a little awkward. You don’t want to impose and they don’t really want you to overstep your bounds, and everyone is always concerned about the event or situation, whatever it may be – meeting, concert, etc.

But things aren’t like that when you travel with church groups. In my travels all over the world – 27 countries, 18 trips, 12 teams – I always experience exuberance and joy, laughter and love and celebration right away. Why? Because I’m home when I’m with them. Because when we get together it’s a reunion, even if we’ve never previously met. We hug and sing and tell stories late into the night, and it’s often better than it is with most of our natural and biological families because there is something deep binding us one to another.

That’s the family of God. That’s the Temple for today.

We experience that in church, too – oh, not to the same degree since many who come to church are coming for the first time and are unsure about where they stand with God. But for those who know what team they’re playing on, every Sunday is like a picnic or a graduation or an open house. There are always plenty of jokes and someone usually sneaks in food or an inappropriate comment. Then many go out for the after-party, lunch at Applebees or something. And like any good party, there will be a few folks huddled in corners trying to get over a broken heart or speaking words of comfort to the needy.

But it’s all family, and it’s all evidence that God is at work in His people, in His church, and in the world.

When Jesus tells Mary and Joseph he was in his Father’s house (or, in some translations, “about his Father’s business”), he was not only referring to looking after the Temple and to the business of learning and applying Scripture, but he was equally in the business of being part of the People, the community, of God who would later become the True Temple of God’s Presence.

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