December 7, 2020

God's Sanctuary

When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
Ps. 114
When Israel sojourned in Egypt, the Egyptians didn't know it, but God was among them. Because God dwelt in the midst of Israel, where they were was God's sanctuary on earth. When Israel was no longer a welcome guest, but forced labor, the divine presence did not go searching for a wealthier, more influential nation, but stuck by Israel until the day would come for their deliverance. And when Israel fled Egypt, God's presence led them, and God's dominion fled with them.

The earliest stories of God's people are about strangers living in strange lands—for example, A wandering Aramean was my ancestor (Deut. 26:5). 

Unlike in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament theology doesn't allow for a single ethnicity to be God's dwelling place on earth. But we do know that God still lives in the midst of God's people—and those people are gathered from among the nations. No matter where God's people are, there God is in their midst.

And there is no one on earth in whom God is more present than in the needy and oppressed. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me, Jesus said  (Matt. 25:40). 

I can ignore these words of Jesus all I want, but my willful ignorance will not remove them from the Bible.

And so when I turn my back on the refugee or asylum seeker, I can pretend my country is simply protecting its borders. But if God is truly present with those in need, then it must be said that my own people are becoming increasingly spiritually impoverished through cold-hearted compliance with human laws. May I seek the presence of Immanuel—God-with-us—beyond my own self or the company of those I am most comfortable with.

When first you came, Lord, you were born a homeless Child, asleep in a stable. When first you ministered, you taught and healed and lived among the lowly. And when you died, once for all, you were nailed to the cross as a despised criminal. May your presence in my life transform my response to those around me, that in the downtrodden I might see not just a neighbor, but a sibling; in the Name of the Incarnate One, who taught me to pray: Our Father...