2 Ch 5:13 & 14
It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers [were] as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up [their] voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, [saying], For [he is] good; for his mercy [endureth] for ever: that [then] the house was filled with a cloud, [even] the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.
The Lord appeared as a pillar of fire and a column of smoke to the people of Israel. He covered all Mount Sinai with clouds and thunders and lightnings. He filled the tent of meeting, the tabernacle, with this cloud.
... And not again in the 300 years prior to this event!
300 years ago, in 1708, George Washington had still not been born. America was still a dark continent. Austria had still not annexed Hungary. The Great Alliance bested France in some war I've never heard of. 300 years is a long, long time. Most of us can barely read English written 300 years ago.
Generations had lived, loved the Lord, and walked away from Him repeatedly. Canaan had been occupied. The judges had come, ruled, died, and been replaced with new judges by God because His people could not curb their lusts without a judge over them. They'd grown tired of judges, and begged for and received a king in Saul. Then God provided better in David. Their government had completely changed several times, and been transferred untold times.
They'd been gathering 3 times a year (or failing to do so) for as long as anyone could remember. They'd been watching the annual sacrifices and hearing the readings of the law. They'd been tithing and resting on Saturdays for generations. Their religion was set in concrete.
And then Solomon started his building program. I don't know how long it took, but if you read the previous 5 chapters of 2 Chronicles, you'll see the immense scale of the temple. The "bath" at the front of the temple held 24,000 gallons of water. The Holy of Holies alone was overlaid with 45,000 pounds of pure gold. The place was a monster.
And the response of Israel was equal to the task. They poured out their hearts and pockets into building this place. Everything about Israel was utterly consumed in financing and enabling this house David had envisioned. Again, read the previous chapters to see what it looks like when God's people become excited about building God's house.
When the time came, the priests led the people in united praise. The band struck up a song, and everyone overflowed to the Lord.
And the Lord overflowed back.
The people were stunned.
They'd heard of such things happening, but they'd never remotely even felt a quiver of nervousness by imagining that such a thing might happen to them. God failed to warn them that He might actually dwell visibly in the house Solomon was dedicating.
Their unexpected Guest arrived.
2Ch 7:3 & 4
And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the LORD, [saying], For [he is] good; for his mercy [endureth] for ever. Then the king and all the people offered sacrifices before the LORD.
When God breaks in upon His world, everything changes. Problems fade and invisible things grow solid. Daily bread stales to mere distraction. The will of God grows savory. It's God. And He's here. And I'm seeing Him fill His house right in front of my eyes.
If a celebrity even just a cute girl gives me a second glance, I'm flattered. If God comes in response to my work of building and my praise, I'm flummoxed. Israel planted their faces on the pavement because the Spirit was moving in their hearts. They worshipped from love. They siezed the honor the Lord bestowed on them, and returned it with fiery love.
They were stunned.
Stunned the way a humble guy is stunned the first time he realizes "that" girl is looking at him with real love. It feels misplaced. Inappropriate. Impossible. For God to honor their sacrifices and inhabit the dwelling they'd made for Him with their weak hands loosened their knees miraculously.
But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!
And Solomon was right. God could not dwell in that tiny little house. It constrained Him.
So He took it upon Himself to be born of a virgin.
God traded in that house on a single, not-so-beautiful, human body.
But the glory that filled the house and brought all Israel to her knees was exactly the glory that filled that Man. It was God Who inhabited the temple, and it was God Who inhabited the temple on Earth.
The people followed Him, even though the veil was firmly closed and the fire of Divinity was hidden deeply within Him. They sensed something, and they were stunned at the wisdom and authority that flowed from His mouth and heart. The dove's descent onto Jesus was about the best clue most of Israel ever had that the Shekinah Glory had filled the temple once again.
That, and Jesus' announcement He would destroy that temple and raise it again from nothing in 3 days.
The Man Jesus contained all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, but God wanted more. It was God who decided to tear down the temple of His own body, leaving not one stone atop another.
And it was God Who raised that temple again, but this time not a single body. The temple had once been a badger skin tent. Then it was gold overlaying cedar and stone. Then it was a single human body. And when Christ rose from the dead, the temple grew larger than David or Solomon might ever have have dreamt. The temple grew into the glorious spiritual gathering of bodies that is the church.
At Pentacost, the Lord descended again to take residence in this new temple. He filled it with the fire of His presence. Moses and Solomon presided when the Lord descended in a cloud of smoke into the first temples. The Spirit presided when He descended like tongues of fire and sat upon each of the people in that upper room, filling them with His life and word.
Strip away the glitter of the Christmas the world tries to sell you.
Strip away the family bonding and sweet traditions.
Strip away even the manger story with its wise men, angels, and Mary.
What remains is the reason God was ever wrapped in swaddling clothes. Before He could be Christ in us, the hope of glory, He needed to be Christ the Seed sown in death for us.
Every single object described in the temple corresponds to an equivalent office in the church, filled by someone who loves Jesus Christ. And when the people give their gold and jewels to the building of the body, and when they give their hearts to praising His glory, the Shekinah Glory fills the temple because the Lord is good, and His mercy extends forever.
May your Christmas be rich in the stunning power of the invisible.