Ark before the Manger

Long before the sun crests over the hills, I awoke. As the rest of the house was slumbering in silence, I lit the Christmas tree. Tidbits of Christmas décor deck the halls, and the mantle is full with the familiar festivities of winter traditions. We rush to get them up, and then somehow, struggle to find time to nestle down and just enjoy them.

In life’s current season of three young children, I eagerly seized this opportunity to grab my Bible, a hot coffee, and plop into the couch next to the tree to enjoy this rare treat of quiet stillness with Christmas nostalgia all around me . Finding myself with a quieted heart, but a stirring mind, led me into a prayer to bring calm to my mind. What to read? Luke 1 came to the forefront of thoughts. “Fitting of course for Advent season,” I quipped to myself.

No doubt, Advent with our kiddos, just before bedtime prayers makes the season extra special. The lighting of candles, reading Scripture, singing carols and hymns from generations long ago, is a treasure for sure. So, Luke 1 seemed too ordinary a read, from this stolen time of sleep, to nourish my soul. I could not have been more wrong.

I read the whole chapter of Luke 1, and then, not sure how, why, where, or at what point found myself reading Psalm 132. Flipping back and forth my attention was captured. Exodus, Psalms, Luke, Micah. WOW! My eyes gazing up at the mantle in meditation, caught in wonder at the miniature scene of the nativity display, but my mind and my soul were meditating on the pre-nativity awesomeness of God’s Word. Old Testament, New Testament, and the intricacies by which they are bound together are beautiful to unpack.

Psalms 132, read it. Then, read Luke 1. Re-read both slowly and end with Exodus 30:1, 6-10.

Absorb the rich parallels between the kingly song of ascent and Zacharias’s priestly prophecy.

Of course, in Luke 1:5-10, we find Zacharias (from the lineage of Aaron) performing his most distinctive of priestly duties, the burning of incense before the mercy seat, by the testimony of God to make intercession. Why? The Law required the priest to make an atonement, the reconciliation, the kaphar, the sacred wiping away of sin.

Remember how the Ark of the Covenant (a golden altar) was where God chose to dwell among His people during the wilderness (post Exodus from Egypt) and in the promise land. The ark was the place of propitiation (Exodus 30:1, 6-10), which the promised Messiah would personify (Romans 3:12-26). The priest would burn incense (symbolizing the prayers of the people being joined with the priest’s own prayer) before the mercy seat. In other words, the ark was where “God reigned over the place of atonement.”1 “Your powerful ark” (Psalm 132:8) reflects the nature of the glory and majesty of God, “a mighty one who will save” (Zephaniah 3:17). The ark was covered in gold to symbolize God’s Kingly right to sovereign rule. The mercy seat represented the promised gift of forgiveness and mercy.

This the priestly order clothed in righteousness (Psalm 132:9; Luke 1:6).

In Luke 1:16-17, a call-and-response is the angel Gabriel’s purposeful reminder of what is needed to turn hearts toward the Lord in worship, so that the Lord would “turn not away from the face of the covenant of the anointed,” but fulfill the promise in truth (Psalm 132:10-11). Despite Zacharias’ priestly doubts, the angelic tidings showed that even in the waiting periods, prayers were being answered with the promised gift of knowledge that the goodwill toward humanity was soon to be revealed.

This the waiting periods order: atonement, trust, and then the performance (Psalm 130,131,132; Luke 1:13-20).

The prayer of atonement –PSALM 130
The prayer of trust – PSALM 131
Comes before the prayer for the prophetic performance – PSALM 132

Next, in Luke 1:26-56, we observe the women’s jubilant salutations full of shouts of praise, as Elizabeth and Mary exalt and bless God for His faithfulness to the generations. As ordinary as their state of affairs were, they experienced the sacred womb’s rebirth that would yield the promised gift of eternal life, resting forever in God’s presence. (Psalm 132:12-16; Genesis 3:15).

This the saints reason to shout aloud for joy (Psalm 132:9,15-16; Luke 1:14,64)

In Luke 1:57-66, we read the birth of John (in Hebrew meaning “God is gracious”). Zacharias and Elizabeth broke the cultural naming tradition to voice what they knew, the long awaited promise of Messiah’s birth was here. This they had learned through Mary’s visitation, her pregnancy would bring Jesus (in Hebrew meaning “God is salvation”). The forerunner was to be their own son, John’s purpose of existence. Elizabeth’s barren womb had carried life for such a time as this. Two births and two sons, who would welcome into the world a new covenant to show that God’s nature of grace is the forerunner to why God would come to save.

This the unveiling of the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant (Psalm 132:11-12; Luke 1:30-33).

Zacharias concluded Luke 1 with a profound echo to the song of ascent in Psalm 132:17-18 (CBS), with his own priestly added ordination:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David, (Psalm 132:17)
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us; (Psalm 132:18)
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

So we see the reason behind the gifts of the wise men at the nativity, as recorded in Matthew 2:11,

Gold- The King who reigns over us and dwells in the place of atonement. (Matthew 27:32-56)
Frankincense – The Priestly prayer as intercession for our propitiation before the mercy seat. (John 17)
Myrrh – The Savior who is our redeemer from death to eternal life, and wipes away ever sin. (Luke 24:44-53)

Merry Christmas from my family to yours. May this holiday season bring a joy deeper than this world could ever imagine in knowing Emmanuel, God with us.

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