Bethlehem and the Shadow of the Cross (Luke 2: 1-7 & Mark 15: 33-39)

The Christmas story tells us that God is with us now, the incarnate God made real in the vulnerability of a child and later in the agony of a dying man on a cross. The Word became flesh and did indeed dwell among us full of grace and truth. We can see in the helplessness of a child born in humble circumstances the prequel of a life which embraced the rejected of society and overthrew the man-made structures of both religious and secular power in favour of the justice and love of God.  The Advent story shown us God embracing all humanity in a invitation is offered to all of us. No longer need we feel God is remote and far off because now we can imagine a new intimacy with God, and a new openness to others, because He became one of us.  Understanding the facts that Jesus came to earth as a baby and died some 33 years later is one thing.  However, knowing the significance of that life and death is quite another. The significance of that one life, means that even in the nativity story the shadow of the cross falls upon the manger in the stable. Whilst many people in the world know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and he died crucified on Calvary, most still don’t know what that really means.

Marks Gospel tells us; account tell us that Christ had hung on the cross for six hours, and for the last 3 hours the whole land has been covered in darkness, Then, “at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. This is the only time in the New Testament where Jesus calls God, God, at all other times He addressed Him as Father, and this is significant. The big question this raises is in what way did God the Father forsake God the Son? The answer is that it was at this point Jesus became our sin and died for the sins of the world and therefore because of that sin God the father by necessity had to turn away. However, the point at which we recognise that Jesus Christ did that for us is also the point at which we as believers, become Children of God. When we understand that Jesus Christ died for our sins and trust in him then, at that precise moment we become Children of God. To say that same thing another way is to say that God becomes our father on that day and if we become His children. When Jesus Christ died for your sins it was in order to enable

In Mark 15:37 it tells us, “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last”. We are told in John Gospel that it was at this point Jesus cried “it is finished”. Furthermore, Luke also added that Jesus also said, “into your hands I commit my spirit” The important point is illustrated by what happens next. “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. Jesus dies, and the temple veil is torn. This is one of the deeply significant things about the death of Christ, but in order to fully appreciate it fully you have to understand something about the tabernacle and later the temple.

The whole tabernacle structure and area is teaching the whole nations was that if you were an ordinary man or woman you didn’t have access to God. If you were lucky enough to be a man you could get part way there, and if you were a priest, you could go into the Holy place. However only if you were a high priest could you actually enter into the Holy of Holies, and the presence of God, and he could only do that on one day, once a year. The tabernacle was portable place for the presence of God to dwell amongst his people which was carried around and constructed anywhere and everywhere they paused to rest.

Later the tabernacle was replaced by a permanent structure called the temple. The whole area around the Temple buildings is called the Court of the gentiles, anybody can visit that area, but if you were a gentile you could only go there but no further. Passing through the main gate and you could then enter what was called the women’s courtyard. Jewish men and woman could both go into that courtyard, but not the gentiles and the woman could go no further than that. However, beyond that was the court of the Israelites, and only men could go there. Then just beyond the slaughter tables and the alter lay the court of the Priests, and guess what you had to be a priest to go that far. Then again beyond that was the building that was the temple proper. Within this temple proper you first entered through the vestibule into the holy place, then beyond that up some steps you entered into the Holy of Holies. These two compartments of the temple proper were separated by a veil, and it is this veil that is being talked about here. A veil that was about 30 feet wide and estimated at about 45 feet high. Just like the tabernacle, the whole edifice said that all of us can only go so far. If you were a gentile, you could only go so far. If you were a woman you could go a little bit further but only go so far. If you were an Israelite, you could go a little bit further but only go so far, and even if you were a priest you could only go so far. Once again only the high priest could enter beyond the veil, into the holiest of holies, into the presence of God, and then only once a year. One man on the whole of Gods creation, and only once a year could enter into the presence of God, in that one particular place.

However, at the moment that Jesus died on the cross we are told that that barrier, that curtain was torn from the top to the bottom. That which separated people from the presence of God was torn wide open. When Jesus died everyone man and woman on this planet, that day and every day thereafter was invited and offered a welcome into the presence of God as Gods special children. We just had to cry out in repentance and faith to enter in. The death of Christ and the tearing of the veil represents the fact that believers can now enter into the very presence of God, and you can do it today, even this morning. Prior to this it was one man (The High Priest) on one day (the Day of Atonement), once a year. However, this means that every believer can now enter the presence of God not just today, but in every minute of every day.

This ripping of the veil made God not only our father but is made God “Abba father”. “Abba” is a term of endearment and equivalent to our term Daddy, it indicates intimacy and trust. In other words, your father God is now approachable. Under the Old Testament system God was not approachable by everybody, the presence of God was limited to one person once a year. The arrival of Jesus is the beginning of the opening up of an initiation to approach God as our father without fear.

As well as being approachable, Abba Father is now available Previously before the coming of Jesus, access to God was limited not only physically to one man, but it was also limited geographically to one place, ‘The Holy of Holies’. God presence was literally penned in.

In John Chapter 4 Jesus speaking says this;

“Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem……. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks”. (John 4: 21-23)

God is no longer accessible by a particular location, He is accessible in Spirit and in truth, anywhere. God is now available wherever and whenever you need Him. God has made himself approachable, but remember you still have to approach him. He may be available any-time and anywhere, but you still have to go to Him. Remember back in the day, when you wanted to call someone you had to find a phone box or go home. Well God has given you a spiritual mobile phone, he has placed it on/in your person and you can call him any-time. Abba Father is now not just approachable, he is now available. When you approach Him, you will never get a engaged signal, and you never get a answering machine message telling you to call back later. Call upon him when you need Him, and he will answer you all the time.

Why do you think he did all this, why did he rip the veil from top to bottom. Why do you think he make himself approachable and available? Perhaps it’s because, He wants to hear from you. He wants to hear from you because He is your loving father, and He wants to hear from you, and He wants to help you. He just wants you to talk to him and lead your life according to the direction you gain from spending time with Him.

God is now your Father, and because Jesus Christ came and walked this earth, and then died for our sins, we now have the opportunity to call upon God not just as Father, but more so as “Abba Father”. Anywhere, any-time, an yplace. Now and always.

I wish you a happy and peaceful  Advent