The Newborn Temple

The Newborn Temple

Christmas reminds us that Jesus is the true temple, true sacrifice, and true priest. Yet those who are united to him by faith are, strikingly, formed by God to be the same things: in Jesus we are a spiritual temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16), spiritual sacrifices offered in worship to the living God (Romans 12:1–2), and a spiritual priesthood consecrated to God (1 Peter 2:4–5). Thus, at Christmas we worship because by faith we are, at long last, enabled through the birth of Jesus to fulfill our creational longing: to be conformed to him as temple, sacrifice, and priests.

Ever since I was a kid, worshiping on Christmas Eve has been a given. I didn’t always want to do it, of course, because it made time slow down and, thus, delayed the long-awaited gift opening. Indeed, one year I may have opened a gift, played with it, and rewrapped it before the Christmas Eve church service without my parents’ knowledge! But the habit of worship imprinted on me immeasurably important lessons about Christmas.

We worship at Christmas because Jesus is the “reason for the season.” We worship because he is the coming Messiah. We worship because of the beauty of the story of a humble virgin Mary, a humble man Joseph, and a humble Christ-child who comes to save, yet lies in a manger. We worship because the fullness of time has arrived (Galatians 4:4).

But theoretically, you can reflect on all those wonderful aspects of Christmas at home in your pajamas. Thus, gathering for public worship is particularly fitting for one other reason. The birth of Jesus is the advent of the consummate place of worship: not a temple, but a person. The incarnation of the Son of God fulfills a human longing to enjoy the presence of and offer worship to the living God.

Universal Longing

All humans are wired to worship their Creator. Eden and its garden were symbolically configured as a sanctuary. God made his presence manifest there (Genesis 3:8). Adam was charged with working and keeping it (Genesis 2:15) and was even adorned, it seems, as a priest (Ezekiel 28:13–14). The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life stood at the center of the garden and were, in due course, guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24), just as they guarded the ark at the center of the temple’s Most Holy Place. Men and women were, in other words, created to worship God in his place, and after our expulsion from Eden we have longed for a way back into the divine presence.

History, thus, is divided into two paths of worship. The false path runs through every pagan religion that strives to please its god(s) through rituals and sacred shrines. For instance, the Canaanites directed zeal toward Baal’s altars and Asherah’s groves (Judges 6:25); Philistines oriented worship around the sanctuary of Dagon (1 Samuel 5:2); Lystra hosted a temple and priesthood of Zeus (Acts 14:13); a plethora of gods, even “unknown” ones, were venerated with altars and statues in Athens (Acts 17:24); and the temple of the Ephesian Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (Acts 19:35). Not much has changed in two millennia, as pagan shrines exist in every corner of the world, representing the universal longing for the divine.

The true path of worship winds through the people of Israel. The patriarchs worshiped Yahweh via temporary altars (Genesis 8:2012:726:2528:1835:1). His glory appeared in terrifying fire and cloud upon Mount Sinai, where he was worshiped from afar (Exodus 19:16–25). The Israelites constructed a movable tent, the ark of the covenant, and other furnishings whereby sacrifices could be offered to their Lord, who filled it with his glorious presence (Exodus 40:16–38). Under King David, the ark of the covenant made its way to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:2). At long last King Solomon constructed a (seemingly) permanent and wondrous temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem, whose glorious presence again filled it magnificently — leading all Israelites to respond with effusive worship (2 Chronicles 7:1–4).

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