And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14, 16–17 ESV)
In Exodus 25:8, God instructs Moses, “Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.” God then spells out in incredible detail how he would like his home among the Israelites to be constructed, even going so far as to name Bezalel and Oholiab as the only two people skilled enough to craft all the furnishings. This Tabernacle, followed by the Temple, served as the physical representation of God’s presence among his chosen people for hundreds of years – barring the period between its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians and when it was rebuilt under the guidance of Ezra.
When Jesus arrived in the manger in Bethlehem, it was the first step in the abolition of the Temple as the representation of God’s presence. This process culminated during Jesus’s crucifixion when the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple was torn in two. No longer would God only dwell within a building, no matter how beautifully crafted; he now dwells in and among his people, regardless of their flaws.
In her book Bread for the Resistance, Donna Barber describes the hard reality of what it means that the church is a body of believers rather than a structure: “It would be easier to point people toward a beautiful monument or send them into a building. In buildings, you can distinguish the sacred from the common with flickering candles and red velvet ropes. You can prevent bad impressions with business hours and locked doors and limit access when things are untidy. But living cathedrals sometimes get messy right at the moment when people stop by. [. . .] Our lives are unworthy to be displayed on the ceiling of any chapel, and yet we are the signposts that have been chosen—the tabernacle where God meets humanity.”
Jesus became flesh so we might know him; we, the church, are to be the embodiment of Jesus so that the world might know God. This means the tenets of our faith now have room to manifest in the church. There is no corner of any building in the world where grace, love, and hope can be tangibly demonstrated on its own; a building is by definition a passive structure. But all of us who form the Church, through the “grace upon grace” that comes from the Son, are not just invited to be active participants in the Kingdom, we are outright instructed to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It might be more difficult than simply pointing people to a building where they can meet with God, but it’s infinitely better.