“Live and in person” Advent devotion for December 11, 2020. Read Exodus 40:34-38 and Psalm 81.
So finally, after all the work collecting materials and crafting the tabernacle, the portable worship center for the newly free nation of Israel was ready. The curtains are in place, the table is in place, the lampstand is in place, the altar and basin are in place, the ark is in its place and the priests are sanctified and ready to do their jobs. Now the cloud which will lead them on their journey (and will be a pillar of fire at night) covers the tent as the glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle. No one can go in. It’s occupied by a holy God, live and in person with His people.
We have a fog machine at church that we’ve used for Vacation Bible School special effects. I got it out a couple of years ago for a Transfiguration Sunday children’s sermon. It almost worked too good. Any more smoke and I think we would have set off the fire sprinklers! I do not need that kind of excitement on a Sunday morning.
The idea of a smoke-filled room can be good news or bad news. If the cassarole in the oven is burning, it’s bad news. If some policies and procedures are being ironed out, it could be good news. If all that incense makes you wheeze and cough, it’s bad news. If it’s the sweet-smelling prayers of God’s people ascending to heaven, that’s good. If the Advent wreath is on fire, that’s bad. If the sanctuary is filled with VBS kids, that’s good!
For the nation of Israel, the smoke of God’s presence in the tabernacle was very, very good news. It meant that their God was with them wherever they went. He would not leave them nor forsake them. He would be with them always, to the end. They would never be on their own to survive, navigate their journey, or fight an enemy. God was with them!
When I was a pastor of a church in Connecticut, I went to a pastor’s conference at a retreat center on the southern coast. It was a really nice place, with great meeting spaces and pretty good food. The pastor in charge of worship was pretty high church. When we met in the chapel of the retreat center, I experienced my first incense-filled evening prayer service. Where I grew up, we never did that. But here, it was a reminder of our prayer and the Lord’s presence.
A few months ago I preached at a colleague’s church for the anniversary of his ordination. I noticed a censor in the front of his church. I asked, “How often do you use that?” He said, “Every week. I light the incense and walk around the sanctuary about an hour before our worship. The smoke and aroma lingers just enough to remind us of our prayers and God’s presence.” I really appreciated his efforts. I had never had this experience.
How about you? Would a cloud of aromatic smoke remind you of God’s presence in our worship? Or do other sensory reminders draw you into the presence of the Savior?
Thank you, Lord, for all the reminders of your presence in our worship and in our lives. Amen.