After the Adam and Eve incident, God seemed to speak to individuals. In that grand old story - He spoke to people like Noah, Abraham, Jacob - and many others. But God was seen as somewhat separate from His people. He seemed to choose a representative to speak to the masses. There were exceptions (like Job, for instance) but, for the most part, God remained separate and unknowable to most. After all, God is - well - God. Who could know Him? (the creator of atoms - and the expanse of the universe). He is far above and beyond our comprehension.
But God moved closer.
After all the craziness of the massive exodus of freed slaves from Egypt - and after the Hebrews turned away from the Promise Land out of fear - God further revealed Himself to the tribe of Israel. On a mountain, He gave Moses and His people the Law (Instruction) - a set of ethics that set their tribe apart from other people and allowed them to be “right” in the eyes of God. This is a bit simplistic, of course, but God was moving closer. His presence was now experienced with His people. He showed Himself as a fire at night and a cloud by day. And the people constructed a tabernacle (movable tent/temple) where God’s presence was said to reside. God’s actual presence in the midst of His people. God was with His tribe.
People still feared God and He was still perceived as separate, but His proximity - His location - was closer than before.
Eventually, God’s tribe became a Nation. The tabernacle was replaced with a massive temple in Jerusalem. People from all over the known world would come and experience God’s presence. Hebrews would make pilgrimages to the temple every year (and some, multiple times a year) just to be near God.
Inside the temple, there was a place knows as the Holy of Holies. It’s where God’s actual presence was said to dwell. Only one person a year could enter into the Holy of Holies in order to perform the atonement sacrifice for the people, and that High Priest had to have a rope tied around His ankle just in case God’s presence would overwhelm and kill him. Getting too close to perfection can have drastic consequences. There was no doubt that this created fear and reverence for the all powerful One.
Again - all this is all a bit simplistic. For instance, the builder of the first temple said, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
A very good perspective on an infinite and all powerful God. But - one of the points of the temple was the with-ness of God. His presence was with His people. This was part of God’s revelation (revealing) to humanity.
All the while, throughout the Hebrew scriptures, there was the promise of a King - a redeemer - a Savior that would come. And His name would be “Immanuel” - meaning “God with us.”
Jesus walks onto the scene. People pointed to Him as this “Immanuel.” This is the Christmas story... “Oh come, oh come, Immanuel” - sung so often at Christmas time.
Jesus redefined the temple. One of the things He said was, “tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” To His hearers, people thought He was crazy. They were thinking the literal temple in Jerusalem. Impossible! But, it wasn’t just crazy, it was insulting. The temple represented God’s presence to the people of Israel. A modern day comparison might look like a person threatening to murder the President of the United States - very serious business. This kind of talk was one (of many) reasons why Jesus got hung on a cross. But - that’s a rabbit trail - what’s my point?
Jesus became the new temple. He was Immanuel - God with us. He was moving closer and closer. When Jesus was murdered, the temple curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from humanity was torn open. The representation of God’s presence was not contained within a physical location anymore. He was no longer in a box! (although we try to put Him in one all the time - ha!)
When Jesus ascended - He promised His Spirit. The Spirit of God would live within His people. Our own physical bodies became the new temple!
Talk about a new way of thinking about Immanuel - God with us! God's movement is closer and closer and closer...
Seriously, think about it. God - who was distant and separate - became intimately close (living within His people!) and inseparable. His revelation is hard to comprehend - but sooooo good!!!
From an unknowable God outside of humanity’s perception somewhere in the heavens - to a tabernacle - to a temple - to Jesus - to us - God keeps moving closer. In fact - there is no person/entity (however you want to say it) - no one is closer than our Savior.
From unknowable to knowable. God’s revelation - His revealing. This is the Christmas story.
One last intriguing thought... If God really did reveal Himself in this way - and Jesus truly is the fullness of the unknowable God - then the historical Jesus - the One in all those stories - God incarnate - He is living within us.
The Christmas story lives within us. What a wonderful thought.
Have an awesome day!