Sermon: Advent 4 RCL B – “The Tabernacle”

As slaves in the land of Egypt, the Israelites did not have access to much food, so they ate whatever they could, and a regular staples on the table was the hard and woody horseradish, so when the great Exodus came, nearly all the fleeing Israelites took horseradish with them. Moshe and Sadie, however, while gathering up their scant belongings, found to their dismay that they had run out of horseradish. Sadie immediately sent Moshe into the field to dig up a large horseradish root to take with them. However, because it was dark and everyone was running around in panic, Moshe dug up a ginger root by mistake.

Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

After forty years in the desert, the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land – all, that is, except Moshe and Sadie. It took them forty-one years to arrive. When asked where they had been, Sadie, now grown old, shrugged her shoulders and replied, “Moshe insisted on taking an alternate root.”

Prior to that great 40 years of wandering in the desert, God gave Moses and the people instruction on how, when, and where they were to worship, a good part of which revolved around the Ark of the Covenant (the golden box that the Nazis stole from Indiana Jones). In Exodus chapter 25, we are provided with considerable detail on how the Ark was to be constructed, which included rings on either side so that poles made of Acacia wood and covered in gold could be slipped in to carry the Ark from place to place, which came in handy with all that wandering.

Because the Ark was to be moved as the people moved, then the “house” for it also had to be transportable; hence, a tent. In chapters 26 and 27 we are told all about this particular tent and it was in no way a two man pup tent. It would have been stunning to see: bronze and gold clasps, fine linen of purple and blue, poles covered in gold, and more. When assembled, it would have been 45 feet deep and 15 feet wide. The courtyard surrounding it was 150 deep and 75 feet wide. Roughly, it would have covered 12,000 square feet. The entire complex was called the Tabernacle and it was the place of the presence of God. (As an aside, the cabinet beneath the sanctuary lamp is called the Tabernacle, because it too is the place of the presence of God found in the Eucharist.)

It is over 400 years since the Exodus to the time of King David and all this time, God has been “living” in this tent, and in our reading today from second Samuel, when King David said, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”—this is the tent he was referring to.

After David had sorted out the country and the enemies, built himself a nice place, he thought that maybe—after 400+ years—it might be a good thing if God had a permanent place of his own.

Initially, the Prophet Nathan agreed, but then the Lord spoke to David through Nathan and essentially said, “This task is not for you.” In first Chronicles we learn the reason, for the Lord God said to David, “You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.” Therefore, the task went to David’s son, Solomon. Apparently God did not mind living in a tent. However, back when David made the offer, the Lord said several other things to David through Nathan.

God begins by reminding David about all the things he has already done for him. Raised him up from a shepherd to be a mighty warrior, brought the people into a land of their own, and given them peace. Then the Lord says, “Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” David says he wants to build the Lord a house. The Lord says, “No, but here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to build you a house.” David understood this as the establishment and eternal rule of his earthly Kingdom, but that was really only a temporal understanding. God had something eternal in mind.

In our Gospel reading today, we see the final pieces of this eternal plan come together. The angel of the Lord said to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Through these actions of God, Mary becomes the new Tabernacle. The one in whom the very presence of God was conceived and her child will fulfill the promises that God made to David and even further back, to Abraham. In Jesus, the covenant is fulfilled and the eternal Kingdom is established, but again, God has more than a temporal Kingdom being established through Jesus.

On the night before Jesus was crucified, he said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” The phrase “make our home” can also be translated as abide. If we love Jesus, he and the Father, through the giving of the Holy Spirit, will come and abide with us. In the Greek, the word “abide” and the word “Tabernacle” have the same root word μονή (mo-na’). If we love God, he will abide with us, he will set up his Tabernacle within us.

The tent was the Tabernacle for the presence of God. The cabinet in our church is the Tabernacle for the presence of God. The Blessed Virgin Mary was a Tabernacle for the presence of God; all this so that we could be transformed into Tabernacles for the presence of our God. When God said to David, “I will build you a house,” David had only limited understanding of what God intended. For where David saw this “house” as an earthly temporal kingdom, God saw this “house” as the soul of the believer.

The promised eternal Kingdom is your very soul.

God does not require a permanent Temple / Tabernacle, because God’s Temple / Tabernacle / Kingdom / presence is established in you. “I am with you always unto the very end of the age.” He didn’t need David or anyone else to build him a permanent home. Why? Because he goes where we go. He is where we are.

Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy Faithful; and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth. Amen.

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