"Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God." Revelation 21:3.
The compilers of our 1928 Prayer Book made a brilliant choice of this text as the Opening Sentence for Evening Prayer in Christmastide. But it may require a bit of unpacking. It says nothing about angels, shepherds, stables or the Holy Family. Until you study it, it does not sound much like Christmas.
This text comes from the next to last chapter of the very last book of the Bible, the Revelation of St John the Divine, a collection of visions which came to the last surviving apostle in a penal colony in a desert island. This vision is a picture of the heavenly Jerusalem, where the triumphant Christ reigns eternally over all his redeemed people, the multitude which no man can number. And there, in the glory of the new heaven and new earth, a loud voice cries out this text, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men." The voice continues with words which echo and re-echo through the pages of the Old Testament.
In heaven itself, when temporal history is all in the past, the voice cries out with words first heard by Abraham and uttered by the prophets over and over. "I will be your God, and you will be my people, and I will dwell with you."
Note one detail. Our text from Revelation mentions a tabernacle, not a temple. What was the difference? The tabernacle was more ancient, belonging to an earlier period of Biblical history. Whereas the Temple was a massive stone structure, the Tabernacle was only a small tent. The Tabernacle was suitable for wandering nomadic people. Now the Christmas message begins to unfold!
The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us! The word "dwelt" is the very same word as "tabernacle." Tonight, the straight line from Genesis to Revelation, from the tent of Abraham to the Island of Patmos, runs straight through the town of Bethlehem, directly through a stable, leading right on to the new Jerusalen. The Christmas crib is the first installment of the new heaven and new earth.
Both Genesis and Revelation contain a promise. God said, "I will dwell with you." What if the most powerful man in the world sent a message, "I am going to come to live in your house." Not just in our town or your neighborhood, but in your house. Imagine the changes in your life and lifestyle!
That is what happened at the first Christmas. God came finally into our world and our life, to take possession and to make changes. When the Baby was laid in the Manger, everything began to change. May that Baby, God in the flesh, dwell in your heart, your house, and your life today and in the New Year. LKW