Bear with me for a minute while we do some Christmas chronology. Zechariah and Elizabeth are parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah is in the priestly division of Abijah (their priestly duty was in June). Elizabeth is pregnant “shortly after”, presumably late June. (Luke 1)
Six months later, during Hanukkah, the baby leaps in her womb at the newly conceived Jesus. Jesus, the Light of the World, was conceived during the Festival of Lights. He was born nine months later, in September, when Jews celebrate Sukkoth, the Feast of the Tabernacles. It makes all the sense in the world now why, when Luke writes about the baby’s arrival, he literally writes, Jesus ‘tabernacled’ among us. To tabernacle means ‘to dwell among’ and of all the places Jesus could have chosen to dwell, he picked the stinky animal shack. All that darkness makes the light shine even brighter, and He has been seeking out the darkest corners and dwelling there ever since.
In these tabernacle moments when we feel Him near, we can sense His dwelling among us. To borrow a phrase from the fifth century Christians, we are in a thin place, where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin, and we can sense the divine more readily.
Last Christmas, I had one of those moments at a children’s home in Monterrey, Mexico. We were in the hillside chapel at Casa Hogar Douglas, singing Christmas carols and watching children in animal costumes and girls with bells perform a few numbers they had rehearsed. We culminated the evening with a candlelight service (yes, we temporarily lost our sanity and handed fire to 75 children), and sang Silent Night together in two languages. At the last moment, I decided to FaceTime my dear friend, Judy Morand. She had sang with children many times in that chapel, but on this particular night was receiving chemotherapy in the U.S. for a disease that has since taken her life. Once the connection came through and she ‘joined’ us in that chapel, I walked over to her sponsor child and together they sang Silent Night, in the dark, with a candle, praising a God who connected these two lives in friendship, who shouldn’t even know each other, let alone, love one another. But that is what happens when Jesus tabernacles among us – He makes space between relationships where love fills in.
I could hardly speak as I watched a young orphan boy get his ‘cup filled’, as his heart was touched by Judy’s life and love for him. I watched Judy’s eyes lift above her circumstances to a place where love and relationships count more than anything else. In reaching out, and loving each other, they honored the Christ child who tabernacled among us. “Noche de paz, holy night…” We sang together, finding ourselves that evening in the thinnest of places.
This advent season, when shopping and noise, parties and feasting threaten to crowd out the thin places, just stop. Remember He has come to tabernacle among us. He wants to shine His light in our darkest of corners and fill the space with love.
Beth Guckenberger is the mother of a bunch of biological, adopted and foster children. She and her husband, Todd, direct Back2Back Ministries. Beth is the author of several books on the journey of their life abroad, including Reckless Faith (Zondervan).