Lessons: Psalm 105, Exodus 40:17-21, Exodus 40:34-38, John 1:14-18
Hymns: LSB 331, 834, 936, 338
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week, we sang the wonderful and familiar ancient hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” We heard several names for Jesus in that hymn, as we also heard some names for Jesus in our readings. Today, perhaps a little more hiddenly, we also heard some names for Jesus, which we will soon discover.
It is fitting during Advent to sing and pray for our Emmanuel to come. We are about to celebrate His coming in the flesh. We want Him to come to us today through the Word of Christ and through the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And we are certainly praying that our Lord Jesus Christ comes back quickly.
Just as Jesus came to fulfill His Father’s will by taking away the sins of the world, so also we want Jesus to return to usher in the new heavens and the new earth. We want Jesus to end all the madness we see around us and make everything perfect again.
Of course, He has not yet come. As I have pointed out recently, God is far more patient than we are. Given that He has not yet come back means that He is still patiently waiting for His appointed time. He knows what He is doing, and He will fulfill His promise.
During Advent, we not only pray and sing for Jesus to come, but we call Him Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Throughout the Scriptures when people realized they were in the presence of God, they were filled with fear. They knew they could not be in His unveiled presence and live. When Peter caught the great catch of fish, he realized Jesus is the Christ and Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”
When we ask for our Emmanuel to be God with us, we are not to be afraid of Him, that we might now die in His presence. Instead, we want Him to come and be in our presence to grant us life.
Jesus did not come to destroy the world, but to save it. He did not come to condemn people, but to grant them salvation. And so, we pray that Jesus would continue to come, make His home among us, and be our Bread of Life.
He did that in a very special way among the Israelites after they fled Egypt. Last week, we heard God’s call to Moses to deliver the people of Israel out of Egypt. We heard that Christ Jesus spoke to Moses in the burning bush. We heard Jesus calls Himself God by calling Himself, “I AM.” Now today, we fast forward about a year. God fulfilled His promise and delivered the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt.
Just ten days ago, the Christian Church celebrated the new Church Year. In our Old Testament reading, you can see that we are in the beginning of a New Year—the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month (Ex. 40:17). They are encamped by Mt. Sinai. They are preparing for their second annual Passover celebration—the first being the miraculous way in which God finally caused Pharoah to let God’s people go. If you recall, they had to kill a lamb or goat, spread blood on the doorposts, eat their meal, and be ready to flee. The Tenth Plague struck the Egyptians, killing the firstborn in each household. The angel, seeing the blood on the doorposts of the Israelites, passed over God’s people; they did not die.
After the Israelites arrived in Mt. Sinai, they received the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant. They were also commanded to take an offering to build a traveling house for God. God gave Moses the blueprints and they went to work. As you heard in our reading, the tabernacle was erected, and a tent was spread over the tabernacle. The testimony (that is, the Ten Commandments) was placed in the ark and set the mercy seat above the ark. They ark was not a giant boat, but a box that housed the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s budding rod, and a golden jar of manna. It served as the very presence of God among the Israelites.
This was all by God’s design. He had a purpose for every detail. It not only taught the Israelites (and should also teach us) that God has very specific requirements on how God would have us worship Him and what God considers to be good, but it also reveals our Savior, Jesus.
The tabernacle accompanied the people of Israel all the way to the promised land, until Solomon built a Temple. Jesus described Himself as the Temple made without hands. And, as we heard in our reading from John 1, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)—literally, “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Jesus became human flesh at His incarnation and made His dwelling among us. He is, after all, our Emmanuel. He is God with us.
The Mercy Seat in our reading from Exodus 40:20 refers to the physical covering of the ark. In Romans, St. Paul uses a Greek word for Mercy Seat when referring to Christ. In our English translation, it is the word for propitiation. Listen to these words from Scripture, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25). We all deserve death for our sin, but Jesus covers us. He shed His innocent Blood on our behalf as the wrath of God was upon Him. And so, Jesus is our true Mercy Seat, our covering, our Propitiator. Recall also the words of the psalmist, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). We are truly blessed, that Jesus has covered our sin and made His dwelling among us!
The second paragraph in today’s Old Testament reading addresses a cloud. “The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34). Throughout their journeys in the wilderness over the course of those forty years, whenever the cloud was taken up form over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would travel. When it was not taken up, the people of Israel would not travel. The cloud was on the tabernacle by day and fire by night. Through this, the Israelites could see for themselves the presence of God. And, veiled behind the Holy of Holies, sat the Ark of the Testimony—also the presence of God.
This presence of God, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is none other than the presence of God the Son. And Jesus, who was present through these amazing ways among the Israelites as they made their way toward the Promised Land, took up a more permanent residence when He became Man. For the Tabernacle was a temporary dwelling place. The Temple seemed a little more permanent, but even that was destroyed. What remains is the Temple of our Lord’s Body. He took up residence as a Human, becoming Human Flesh. He remains Human. He died as a Human and rose from the dead. He continues as our Savior, the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ was present among the Israelites throughout their entire journey and even as they settled in the Promised Land. We take comfort in knowing that the same Christ is present among us as we wander through the wilderness of this fallen world and as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament. He is leading us to our Promised Land—the New Jerusalem—our Heavenly home.
This all means that we have a very personal and present God. In an age where people are increasingly being isolated from one another, this is comforting. In this life, we are receiving less human and personal contact. We are having more contact virtually, and through an impersonal media. Jesus, however, doesn’t come to us virtually, but in flesh and blood, fully sharing our humanity. That’s why God uses water in Baptism—something physical touches us as the Word of God is spoken. And, as we receive the bread and wine in Holy Communion, we truly receive Christ’s Body and Blood. Through Christ, we are no longer cut off from God or from one another. Instead, we find perfect fellowship with Him. Therefore, we gather in God’s house, hear His Word, receive His gifts.
In closing, let me read to you a portion of Scripture from St. John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Rev. 21:1-5).
Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen