God Dwells With Israel

Mount Sinai must have been an impressive, even startling, sight. Enveloped in darkness with flashes of lightning, Israel heard the thunder and even, on one occasion, the voice of God. They felt the rumblings of God’s presence in tremors that rippled through the earth’s crust. This was God’s holy mountain. God descended upon it, and the glory of the Lord appeared as a consuming fire.

We might imagine that this would have been the end of Israel’s journey. They had arrived at the holy mountain, the place where God lives. But it would, in fact, become the beginning of Israel’s real journey, the journey through the wilderness to the promised land carrying the presence of God among them.

At Sinai, Israel waited. They waited forty days for Moses, and when Moses returned, their waiting continued. Their waiting, however, was no passive resignation. God gave Israel a task, and they prepared for the moment when God would come to dwell among them. They built a tabernacle, a portable sanctuary. Its portability was a hopeful sign because God would go with them on the journey through the wilderness. They built the tabernacle, they waited, and they prepared for they could not even imagine.

This was Israel’s Advent season. They were waiting for something and perhaps they were not even sure what it was. They prepared a sanctuary, a worship center. They prepared themselves as they listened to Moses and obeyed his every instruction. They consecrated themselves to the service of God. They did everything they were commanded. They set up the tabernacle and finished the work.

Then it happened. The Lord drew near. The glory of God, the redemptive and personal presence of the Lord, filled the tabernacle. A cloud hovered over the tent while the consuming fire of God’s presence filled the sanctuary. God now dwelt within Israel’s camp. In a sense God moved from the mountain to the tent. God moved from a permanent fixture to a portable one. The holy presence of the burning bush was now within a portable tent. God, too, was going on a journey, a journey with Israel.

Their wait was over. Advent had arrived. A new journey was beginning, but God, the consuming fire present in the cloud, would lead them and guide them. God would bring them to the promised land, and God’s presence was their assurance and their strength.

Later, Israel will know this presence in a more permanent way through the temple, upon which God’s glory would once again descend just as it had upon the tabernacle.

God filled the tabernacle, and then God filled the temple, just as God had, in the beginning, filled Eden and dwelt in the cosmic temple. This is the gift of divine presence; it is the gift of grace, mercy, and communion.  Just as God rested on the seventh day within the creation, so now God rested within Israel’s tabernacle and temple.  It is yet another move toward God’s goal for the whole of creation, which is to include all peoples within the orbit of God’s love and for God to dwell among them.

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