Posted on December 30th, 2012
David, the King, feels guilty. The time of war is largely ended, and the children of Israel are finally at peace in the land promised long ago to Abraham. Resting in his brand new luxurious palace, David looks out and realizes that the ark of God has no such palace. “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” So David proposes to build a cathedral. He would erect Notre Dame, St. Peter’s Basilica, Hagia Sophia, a grand church for Israel’s victorious God.
But God refuses. Why? We can read in the rejection notice delivered by the prophet Nathan in today’s first reading two main items: 1) The LORD builds a house for David, not the other way around; 2) The Son of David will build the house. In other words, David is not to think of himself as the builder of the house; God is the maker and builder. And God is shifting the view of David, and Israel, beyond the present to David’s future Son – and then ultimately even beyond the city of Jerusalem to something greater – a restored Eden, a restored world, a restored humanity. The prophecies in God’s Word are sometimes fulfilled in a provisional way that points to the ultimate fulfillment. Thus David’s son Solomon will build a house, which is to say, the Temple; but ultimately Jesus Himself becomes the Temple.
But don’t you find it odd, this language of God dwelling in a place? Is God not omnipresent, filling every place and indeed being beyond place and time? Yes. But as I have often reminded you, just because God is everywhere, doesn’t mean that He is everywhere for you.
Thus, when the LORD says to David, “I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling,” it is not as though God needed the tent for shelter from the rain or a place to put His belongings. The tent—or tabernacle—and more specifically the ark of the covenant within the tent was the place, the location, where the LORD had promised to meet with His people, to bless them, to share His holiness with them. Because we human beings are creatures of time and space, we need a time and a place to locate something, to grasp it.
When Solomon builds the Temple in Jerusalem, it is simply a permanent tent, an unmovable tabernacle. The Ark would no longer be moving, but here, in this place, in Jerusalem, would be the location where God’s people could come, could know and be certain that God wanted to bless them, forgive them, share His holiness with them, grant them His peace. The Temple was Eden breaking back in on the world.
But all this was looking forward to something greater. In the incarnation, God does not dwell in a tent or a building of stone, but in a man. That man, JESUS, shares in our human nature. Why? To redeem our human nature.
You know the condition of your nature. We live in a wonderful age, where we have exceptional physicians, amazing technology, and medicines that previous generations would have considered miraculous. Yet for all that, they cannot keep us alive indefinitely, nor even as long as the fathers of the ancient world. We are dying, individually, and as a race.
And that corruption runs through your soul as well. How easily we fixate on a harsh word spoken in anger, a criticism leveled against us, a broken relationship. Resentment, envy, petty jealousies and nursed grudges consume. David, a man after God’s own heart, was later driven to adultery, then seeking to cover up the child conceived by that relationship, then murdering the husband of his lover, and covering that up. The possibilities for evil in the human heart are boundless, and when you sincerely meditate on the Ten Commandments you will find these impulses also animating you in horrendous ways.
In the incarnation, God does not simply give us an example for us to follow, a picture of a good man that we bad men can imitate and learn from. No, by coming into our human nature God is Himself assuming our human nature, redeeming our human nature, restoring our human nature.
In today’s Gospel, we heard that this God-man, the little child Jesus, is brought to the temple on the fortieth day, and there, in God’s House, was a man named Simeon. Simeon had been given a promise by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before He saw the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, the Son of David long foretold.
Taking the Child JESUS up in his arms, what does he say? “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
Now these words should be among the most familiar to you, because we always sing them after receiving the Lord’s Supper. Why? Precisely for this reason: in this Sacrament, you get something even better than Simeon. Simeon held the Christ-child in his arms, but you receive Him into your very body. One of my favorite quotations from Luther tells what this means for you: “As we eat Him, He abides in us and we in Him. For He is not digested or transformed but ceaselessly He transforms us, our soul into righteousness, our body into immortality.”
In the Jerusalem Temple, the Lord built a House for His NAME; where His NAME is, there He rules, there is peace. Death cannot enter, the violent cannot harm, evil has no dominion. The Temple was like a New Eden, with images of pomegranates and palm trees; life dwelt there, and God’s presence was working through His holy NAME, holy word, and holy meals to transform His people, their souls into righteousness, their bodies into immortality.
But it still was anticipating the new Temple not made with hands, a Temple of flesh, where God would so honor the original crown of His creation, man, by Himself becoming man. The Temple, JESUS, is a temple not made with hands but fashioned from a virgin. The Blessed Virgin Mary is like the tabernacle, moving from place to place, going from Nazareth to Bethlehem, carrying within her the Holy One, the One whose presence brings peace to a warring world, life to a dying world, holiness to an evil world.
Thus Jesus says to the Samaritan woman questioning the proper place of worship, “The hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father…. The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4.21, 23).The place of worship is being relocated. To where? To Jesus the new Temple.
When the Jews were angry after Jesus cleansed the temple, He said to them, “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them.” (John 2.19-22).
Jesus is the new Temple, the House where God’s NAME dwells. So when our building falls down—and it surely will one day—it will not matter. We can meet in a home or in a field or in a bunker, and be certain that God is with us, that we have assembled in the holy temple – for the temple of God, the House for His NAME, is wherever Jesus is, and He is wherever His Word is. When we read the Gospel, Christ is present in our midst. When we baptize with water and the Word, Christ is present and doing His work. When we take simple bread and wine, and join it to His Word, Christ is there in His body and blood.
This is why I said that when you depart the Communion, you have something better than Simeon. He held the Christ in His arms. You have the Christ in your body. He dwells in your body, and by His Word in your heart.
This is why God’s Word also calls you His temple. Wherever you go, there the temple of God is. Do not, therefore, defile your temple with filthy words. Do not pollute your eyes with corrupt images. Do not sully your body with unholy deeds. For you are God’s temple, you are now a house for God’s Name.
And what will the LORD do with His house, your body, the place where His name dwells? Just as the Father raised up Jesus, the new temple, from the dead, so will He do for you. He has placed His name upon you, His stamp of ownership. He will not abandon you to the grave, but will rescue you. All this is what it means when we pray in today’s Collect that the incarnation of the Son has “wondrously restored our human nature.” You can count on that with your very life.