Today’s readings are Numbers 7, and Luke 2:1-21. In numbers we read a long account of gifts offered when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils.
There are two sets of gifts. The first a set of wagons and oxen, seems somewhat strange. It’s certainly different to passing the Offertory bags on a Sunday.
But then it makes sense when you realise that what Moses had finished setting up was not a building like our auditorium, but literally a large tent, where the Holy God met with His people who at the time had no permanent home. The oxen and wagons were to be used in transporting the tabernacle. As Israel moved around, their God was ever-present with them. I can’t help but be reminded of John’s description of the incarnation of Christ.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
The second set of gifts, are brought at the consecration of the altar. Listed out over and over, the same gifts brought by each of the chiefs of the tribes of Israel, given over 12 consecutive days. These gifts are extravagant and valuable, and they are for the dedication of the altar – the place where sacrifices are made for the atonement of sin. This too points towards the incarnation of Christ, who becomes the one sufficient sacrifice for all.
And that’s exactly where our second reading finds us today. Does it feel strange reading about shepherds and angels in October?
The contrast of extravagant gifts brought by the chiefs of the tribes of Israel, with some formal ceremony and repetition, could not be more stark, against the shepherds in the fields who were minding their own sheep, when an angel of the Lord shows up.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord
Unto you. Not chiefs, princes, rulers, but you. Shepherds – ordinary people. They had no extravagant gifts – rather they received the gift, to see the Word become flesh and tabernacle among us. No more need for priests, tabernacles or altars.
If you really want to get a sense of the significance of this, have a quick flick over to Hebrews chapter 9. If you have time, read the whole of Chapter 9 and the first part of 10. Here’s just a taste
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
No wonder the sky filled with angels saying
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”