Sanctuary

Last week, I chaperoned my tenth-grader’s field trip to New York City. One memorable site we visited, at least to me, was the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

As is often the case with field trips, we had little time in the building. Still, for the time I had, I trailed my fingers over the heavy polished wooden pews as I took in the ornate ceiling, columns, and alcoves all bathed in light filtered through stained glass windows.

My thoughts strayed from the sights before my eyes to the beautiful descriptions of the two Temples given in Scripture. For a moment, my heart stirred with sorrow and I whispered, “O Lord, when did we stop building You such glorious houses of worship?”

He whispered back, “This is not My house, child. You are.”

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

1 Corinthians 3:16

The thought has been with me since.

On this day, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, I invite you to join with me in an endeavor which will have eternal benefits. Now that God’s people are His house – His temple – let’s do a little spiritual housecleaning. If our bodies are God’s temple, ought we not be certain the bodies we offer Him are worthy of His residence?

So by His grace and with the sound counsel of the Paraclete – the Holy Spirit our Helper – let’s resolve to search our temples by the Light of the Word. When we find something unsavory or rotten, let’s remove it, banishing it from the house. What is filthy, let’s cleanse; what is ugly, let’s beautify; what is dishonorable, let’s cast out.

From here on out, let’s join together in Christ to become a Temple of incredible beauty. Let the worship performed in these, our temples, be genuine, breaking forth from the overflow of gratitude for His sacrifice which has set us free from sin.

Then let us choose to live as free men and women every single day. Let’s keep these houses swept clean of debris and deceit. Daily, we’ll let the Light in so that by the light of the Word we can see clearly. We’ll let the Spirit of God do His work in us, putting our houses in order so that by our lives and in our bodies, we can magnify the beauty of our great and awesome God!

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Looking for the King

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Luke 2:25-26

During Christmastime, it’s not unusual to hear from all corners references to that ancient pair of travelers, Mary and Joseph, and their trek to Bethlehem. Songs about the birth of Jesus or the heavenly chorus which was performed for shepherd are occasionally played even on secular stations, and I’ve heard tell that some broadcasters will air A Charlie Brown Christmas complete with Linus’s recital of 2:8-14.

The story isn’t new to Christians. It isn’t even new to some who do not know the Lord. But how many continue reading in Luke past the point of the shepherds and their rejoicing? There’s more to the coming of the King than His undignified birth amidst the stench of a stable.

Forty days after His birth, the young couple would make a journey to Jerusalem because Mary’s time of purification according to Levitical law was at hand.  On this exciting day, we are told, they brought a sacrifice “according to what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'”  (Luke 2:24)

A quick glance back to Leviticus 12:6-8 will reveal that the sacrifice of a pair of birds was a provision for those who could not afford to offer both a lamb and a bird for the ritual purification after childbirth. 

And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”

Leviticus 12:8, see also 12:2-4, 6-7

The idea of Jesus’s humble beginnings is not new, of course, but it bears fresh meditation as we approach the day of celebration. Most of us are familiar with the fact that His first bed was not one of down and silk in a palace, but scratchy straw in a place meant to feed animals. But it strikes me even deeper that Mary and Joseph brought two birds for the sacrifice, unable to even afford a lamb for the ritual purification of the mother of the Lamb of God.  

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God…

Luke 2:25-28

Despite the lowly circumstances of His earthly parents and the complete lack of any of the trappings of royalty, two people at the temple that day recognized Him. A man named Simeon who’d received a promise that he wouldn’t die before he saw the Messiah, and an old widow named Anna.

A few years ago as I re-read this story, one fact really captured my attention as I read: Anna was at the temple that day, as she was every day, worshiping God.

… [Anna] did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:37-38

 Somehow I doubt that Simeon and Anna were the only folks in the temple that day, yet they are the only ones mentioned who recognized the Messiah.

In our modern ways of worship, I sometimes fear we have allowed musical selections or environments or programs or gear or technology or a myriad other useful and even wonderful tools to drown out the simple, unassuming message of our King.

Perhaps this is more apparent at Christmastime. During the season when we are purportedly celebrating His birth, don’t we often find ourselves more caught up in the details of hymn selections and service times, or of parties and decor instead of being caught up with love and adoration of the One we are supposed to be celebrating? I confess that I sometimes do.

Don’t get me wrong – I love worship services both classic and modern and hymns both old and new. I also enjoy the entire Christmas season. But every year, I have to ask myself if I am still seeking the King in the midst of the festivities and activities. 

Anna worshiped. Simeon waited. Both recognized their King and rejoiced. What am I doing today?

I sincerely hope that I will not be found sitting in a place of worship going through the motions of devotion and somehow overlooking Him in the midst of it all! I hope that I, like Simeon and Anna, will recognize the Messiah in my days no matter how quietly and unassumingly He presents Himself.

Gracious God, forgive me for so often being concerned with the “hows” of worshiping You and neglecting actual worship. During this Advent season and forever after, help me to be alert to Your presence, looking attentively for you, eagerly anticipating Your appearance in my days as both Simeon and Anna did. May I never miss You whether You come heralded by trumpets or as subtly as a gentle whisper, amen.