Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus left us with His glorious presence in the Eucharist
By Bob Hunt
The Advent and Christmas seasons are a good time to reflect on the presence of God in our Church and in our lives. God made His presence known in glory to Moses on Mount Sinai in an overshadowing cloud and a consuming fire (Exodus 24:16-17). This sense of the Lord’s glorious presence is called the shekhinah by Jews, from the Hebrew verb shachan, which means “to dwell or abide.” God told Moses while on the mountain, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8). The shekhinah then filled the Tent of Meeting that served as God’s dwelling place while the Jews traversed the desert on their way to the Promised Land and filled the Holy of Holies when the Temple was built in Jerusalem. 1 Kings 8:11b-12 reads, “For the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has set the sun in the heavens, but has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built thee an exalted house, a place for thee to dwell in forever.’”
The Ark of the Covenant, which held the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments as well an urn of manna and the rod of Aaron, was housed in the Tent of Meeting and then in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. It was from the mercy seat that covered the Ark of the Covenant that God spoke to Israel through Moses: “And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel (Exodus 25:21-22).
In the Book of Sirach, Wisdom is portrayed as seeking a place to dwell among the nations, until God commands her to dwell with Israel: “Then the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and the one who created me assigned a place for my tent. And he said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance’” (Sirach 24:8).
Now, consider the words of the preface to the Gospel According to John: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). Biblical commentaries tell us that the literal meaning of “dwelt among us” in this verse is “pitched his tent or tabernacle.” Jesus in the flesh is God dwelling among us. He is the shekhinah of God, the glory of God in our midst. Joseph Ratzinger, in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narrative, wrote, “The man Jesus is the dwelling-place of the Word, the eternal divine Word, in this world. Jesus’ ‘flesh,’ his human existence, is the ‘dwelling’ or ‘tent’ of the Word: the reference to the sacred tent of Israel in the wilderness is unmistakable. Jesus is, so to speak, the tent of meeting—he is the reality for which the tent and the later Temple could only serve as signs.”
We are tempted to think of Christmas as a fantastical holiday for children or, in secular terms, a time for peace and harmony among people. The Scriptures tell us that it is so much more than that. Advent is when we prepare for and Christmas is when we celebrate God’s shekhinah, His coming to dwell among us as one of us. The Gospel According to Matthew announces that the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled, that “‘the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23).
God with us! No longer only a transcendent Being, the God of the philosophers, who made and sustains us. No longer only the One who guided us through history, out of human bondage and into an earthly kingdom. Now He is God with us, one of us, having made His dwelling among us and been born among us.
Before He ascended into heaven after the Resurrection, Jesus left us with His shekhinah, his glorious presence among us in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. In each tabernacle in every parish there is reserved the glory of Jesus’ presence. This Advent and Christmas, make a point of celebrating and basking in the glory of His Real Presence among us in daily Mass or visits to the Blessed Sacrament. What a privilege and grace to sit and rejoice in the presence of the Lord who dwells among us!
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.
Bob Hunt is a husband, father, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville and is a candidate for the permanent diaconate.