Monday, December 10, 2012

Human Temple

One of the lectionary readings for the second Sunday of Advent was Malachi 3:1-4.  The prophet prophesies that the Lord will "suddenly come to his temple" and that he will be "like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap."  A couple of interesting things to note here:

First, the tabernacle and temple always stood for the people Israel gathered, organized around God’s special presence.  When Peter talks about us being "living stones" he's not introducing something new.  After all, did anyone expect Jesus to be scrubbing the stones on the physical temple with a soapy brush?  Or blasting away at the gold and silver with a blow torch to purify the precious metals?  Of course not.  Jesus' cleansing the temple was all about reforming the people.  The gold, silver, and stones of the temple represented various kinds of people.  When Nebuchadnezzar raided the temple and took the gold and silver, at the same time he also snatched the best and brightest of Israel and brought them back to Babylon.  And when he came again to destroy the temple, he destroyed and captured the rest of the people, thereby deconstructing the entire nation of Israel.

Second, the promise of the Lord coming to his temple also has a surprising fulfillment.  The Son of God did not merely appear in the midst of his people as an angel or a theophany to deliver messages from heaven.  And he did not simply cause his Glory to fill the old temple as in the past.  The time for stone temples was past.  Was a stone temple ever really a fitting dwelling place for God?  Would God the Son come to his people to reside permanently in a stone house?  No.  Stephen makes this clear in his speech to the rulers of Israel.  "The Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands" (Acts 7:48-49; quoting Isaiah 66).

Every building is built to accommodate someone or something.  If you are like me, when you drive by a new construction site you look for signs of who might be moving in.  Will it be a store, a bank, a business, or someone’s home?  We want to know who will dwell in that new building.  Well, what we learn in the Christmas story is that our humanity was built to house the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth.  The true temple of God is humanity.  God the Son moves into his temple, his house, his palace when he unites himself to our humanity in the womb of the virgin Mary.  The Father and Spirit construct a glorious house for the Son to dwell in.  And God the Son has no "problem" uniting himself with us and dwelling with us as a man because we have been created for this very purpose.

The Son of God did indeed suddenly come to his temple.  He cleanses and purified his new house through his suffering, death, and resurrection.  The Lord is now permanently housed in this renovation of humanity.  Unlike some folks on the TV show "Love it or List it," Jesus didn't give up on mankind and start over again in a new house.  He didn't "list" us, so to speak.  He loved us so much that he suffered, died, and rose again in order to transform our humanity into a fitting dwelling place for the Lord Most High.

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