It was the most tragic day in the history of the nation of Israel. Ezekiel watched as the glory of the Lord slowly left the Temple and then the city of Jerusalem. The cloud of God’s glory was the Lord’s presence manifested in the midst of the Israelites. His presence set them apart from all other nations, marking them as his chosen and beloved people. It had led them out of Egypt, as a pillar of cloud and fire, and it had covered Mount Sinai as the Lord gave Moses the Law to govern their new nation. A cloud of glory had washed into the Jerusalem temple after it was dedicated by Solomon, and God’s glorious presence had been so overwhelming that the priests could not even stand to do their duties. It had come as an explosive flood of glory, and now, several hundred years later, God’s presence departed quietly, slowly slipping away.
It wasn’t long until Jerusalem was sacked by Babylonian forces, the temple demolished, the city ransacked, the ones who survived the carnage carried off to a foreign land.
After a generation in exile, they would return, a rag tag bunch trickling back to their ancestral homeland. They would slowly rebuild, with hope in their hearts. The Lord had promised that He would return to them. Ezekiel had also seen the glory of the Lord returning to the temple. The prophets promised that God would once again dwell in their midst.
But God’s presence of glory didn’t return when they completed and rededicated the new temple. There was no roar of its coming. There was only their prayers echoing into silence.
They would wait for hundreds of years. God’s presence, the glory cloud of His presence, did return, but it did not come sweeping in with a thunderous swoosh, overwhelming and terrifying. God's Presence returned in a tiny baby, born in a barn, entrusted to the arms of a young girl and her husband. It came in obscurity, revealed in the backwoods to the fringes of society and to foreigners. It came quietly, softly, open to those who would receive it.
As you celebrate Christmas this weekend, I invite you to rejoice in the wonder of God’s Presence with us in the baby Jesus Christ and in his ongoing, indwelling presence through the Holy Spirit. He is God in our midst, God with us.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see—hail the incarnate deity. Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.