Monday, January 03, 2005

A God who pitches tent with us

The Word became flesh, and pitched tent among us.
(John 1:14, an alternate translation)
I first heard this version of John 1:14 from my first ministry professor, Tex Sample. I won't bore you with the Greek - but the word that is commonly translated "dwelt" literally means "fixed his tabernacle." That didn't mean much to me until a Messianic Jew explained that in the Old Testament, a "tabernacle" was a temporary dwelling for the Spirit of God - often a tent-like structure - erected on feast days. So, the Word became flesh, and for a time, pitched tent among us.

Over the years, this has become one of the most powerful images of my faith - the unending, limitless, all-powerful God, El Shaddai, Yahweh, accepting human flesh as a temporary dwelling place, in order to bring salvation to all of humanity. But it's this idea of "pitching tent" that still intrigues me.

When you live in separate houses, it's sometimes hard to know what's going on next door. Things happen behind closed doors that we as neighbors often never know. But when I've been camping, life is definitely much more communal, more open. If someone is laughing - or crying - in the next tent, it's hard for others not to acknowledge it. Generally, folks who camp together seem more considerate of each other and their space, and more intentional about bringing about harmony and community.

And I guess that's what captured my imagination about this idea of God "pitching tent" - that God came close enough to hear my weeping, and my laughing, and to care about my life. The word Emmanuel, "God with us," seemed much closer in the next tent than in some dwelling next door (or away at the Temple). I also resonated with the idea of the tabernacle as a temporary dwelling, because it matches perfectly with Jesus' very temporary life among us.

Amazing how such a simple change of a word or two can bring such powerful meaning...

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