When foot soldiers deploy, they set up their tents, temporarily occupy foreign soil, get acquainted with the "locals” and seek to bring peace and safety. When their mission is accomplished, they pack up and go home.
Nomadic Bedouins live on the move, seeking pasture for their sheep or camels, looking for food for their families. Encampment means setting up their huge tents, settling in for a few weeks or months while ready to head on.
The Jews in the wilderness – after Egypt - had no permanent place to worship God. So, the LORD gave them plans for a mobile worship facility - the Tabernacle, the Tent of meeting. Here they sacrificed to and served the LORD.
When the Cloud or Fire that lead them stopped, they camped. It was God saying: stay here, set up the Tabernacle, My Tent and worship. When the days were complete, they struck the Tent and the Cloud led them along.
How do these Christmas images grab ya? If I threw in some wise men, would it help? How about mutant flying reindeer or a bloated, bearded Senior in slick red P.J.s? "Ho, ho, NO" you say?
If you want the classic Christmas story, turn to Matthew or Luke. If you want tent talk, read John's gospel. Do not expect any angels, mangers or maligned Inn Keepers. John tells us about the eternal Word who was with the Father who took on skin and bones. He speaks of a Life that is light. He - well, read it for yourself from John 1:1-4 & 14:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men... vs. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (NKJV)
While this offers little to market for the holidays, it makes up for it with some awesome theology. It also takes us back to our bivouac and answers: Who sneaked tents into the already crowed Christmas panoply? The "dwelt among us" in verse 14 is camping talk. It literally means: Jesus tabernacled, pitched His tent, encamped among us.
From John, we learn that the Word, Jesus, is co-eternal with God - not a new part of God's product line for the holidays. No, Jesus, also self-existing, created all of God's product line (see also Colossians 1:14-17). Jesus is called life: the kind of talk reserved for the Divine.
Keep in mind this Christmas that His birth was not His beginning. He was from the beginning and was the beginning, the Creator of all. Yet, He left the Father’s side to be with us. The Word became flesh and moved in our neighborhood.
As if this was not deep enough, the eternal Creator who is life - just like the Father - is also light. When the Light came into the sin-darkened world, He provided illumination, a “show and tell” of the Holy God.
So the spiritual (the Word), became physical. The eternal One became temporal (i.e. "in time", not temporary). God as man with us, or as John put it: He pitched His tent among us.
Did God's ultimate Scout, the firstborn, leave a trace? Yes! Talk about getting to know and fixing up the place!
Jesus, the ultimate Army of One, is our means of peace with God. His mission was accomplished. Remember His powerful "It is finished" battle cry? Can you say simper fi - always faithful? Hooah!
Was He on foreign soil? Yes and no. Though He made it, and came to the ones and place He made, they did not receive Him. The Master of the house returned to be treated like an intruder.
Thankfully, those who do accept Him as the true Owner are given the authority to become God's sons and daughters - all the ones believing in His name (see John 1:11-13). How hospitable to Him are you?
Jesus himself is both God's holy Tabernacle and the lamb offered for our sins. He is the eternal Word who chose to reside in humble, temporary fashion among us to provide a means of fellowship with God.
This homeless Nomad from birth still wants to feed His sheep. He wants to gather all those who are His, be their living water and heavenly food. Jesus invites us into His tent for fellowship, a life relationship. He alone can make us happy campers.
In his first letter, John wrote that this Word was no mythical figure. No, Jesus, the Word of life could be heard, seen, studied carefully and even handled. He reminds us that Jesus' followers - that he - did just that.
John continued: "... that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:3 & 4 - NKJV). Jesus, John tells us, is to be experienced, declared and shared with all.
When we look at our new pup-tenting Neighbor, we see glory. This unique One, the Father's Son, is still full of grace and truth. Merry CHRISTmas and happy camping with Him.