Therefore rid yourselves of all malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, how that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living stone,…you also like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:1-5)
As I write this, we are gearing up to celebrate Christmas. It’s such a busy time of year. A week later we will begin a new year. All of a sudden, our attention shifts to where we want to go in the coming year.
Christmas is, of course, about the incarnation. God took on human flesh and condescended to live with us. John captures it well in his prologue; The Word became flesh and tabernacle with us, and we have seen his glory…” (John 1:14)
The word “tabernacle” comes from the Hebrew word which means “to dwell, or live”(make his residence with us). The inference is that the tabernacle of old represented God’s dwelling place in the midst of his people as they were camped at the base of Mt. Sinai and as they made their way to the promised land. God’s presence was manifested in the glory cloud which settled over the tabernacle. It was the same cloud which led them through the wilderness. After they had entered the promised land the tent-like tabernacle was put aside and the Temple, made of stone, took its place, to be a permanent building for God in Jerusalem. The same glory cloud took up residence there once it was complete. With Christ, the presence of God was with us in bodily form in the person of God’s Son. What powerful imagery!
Now Peter, when addressing this fledgling church, reminds them that they are being built into a spiritual tabernacle or temple. That is, the church becomes the incarnate presence of God in the world.
OK, how is God’s presence manifested? For one thing, by our demeanor. We are not cinder blocks. We are not chunks of granite or marble. We are “living stones”—people in whom the Spirit lives. But the fact that we are built into a house (temple) means that we are in relationship to one another. Each stone is placed in a certain position to support the ones next to it, and to contribute structure and strength to the whole. It is within the context of these relationships that we offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God. And it is within the context of these relationships that we truly incarnate the presence of Christ in the world.
Relationships are never easy though, are they? There is always potential for friction and tension. This is what Paul addresses particularly in 1 Corinthians and what James addresses in his letter. And this is why Peter precedes his words about us being built into a spiritual house with the admonition to rid ourselves of things such as malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. It is these things that are deadly to real Christian relationships. That’s why, when we find that another living stone rubs us the wrong way, we can never say, “That’s it, I’m out of here.” It leaves a gap in the structure and weakens the building. And it short-circuits God intention to use us as an incarnational presence in the world.
As we contemplate the incarnation of Christ this year, may we also be reminded that we as Grace Church are also the incarnational presence of God in Pittsfield. As we begin a new year, may we resolve to rid ourselves of those things that hinder our worship and testimony.
Pastor Tom Bridgman