I published this column in the Deseret News on 8 December 2011:
“In the beginning was the Word,” begins a Christmas story that we seldom read at Christmas, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).
The Greek verb translated as “dwelt,” “skeneo,” means “to dwell in a tent” — which, in Greek, is a “skene.” So John 1:14 could be rendered as “And the Word was made flesh, and tented among us.”
This recalls the Old Testament tabernacle in the wilderness, a tent-sanctuary symbolizing the presence of God that was pitched in the midst of the traveling camp of Israel:
“And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle. And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:8-11).
The Hebrew word translated as “tabernacle” is “mishkan,” which refers to the place where God’s presence, his “shekinah,” resided. “And let them make me a sanctuary,” says the Lord in Exodus 25:8-9, “that I may dwell (‘ve-shakan-ti’) among them, according to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle (‘mishkan’).” John’s Greek verb (built from the root “s-k-n”) seems to play off of the Hebrew root (“sh-k-n”; in Arabic, the equivalent root is, precisely, “s-k-n”) in order to suggest that the presence of Moses’ portable temple among the Israelites prefigured Christ’s earthly life in a “tabernacle of flesh” among mortals.The epistle to the Hebrews also links Christ closely with the temple — most notably when it compares him to the high priest of the earthly sanctuary.
“We have such an high priest,” says the author of Hebrews, “who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” He is “a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” Human priests merely “serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things” (See 8:1-5). Into the holy of holies “went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people … which was a figure for the time then present” (9:7, 9). “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. … For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (9:11-12, 24).
So John compares Christ to the tabernacle/temple, and Hebrews likens him to a high priest officiating within the temple.
But, through redemptive vicarious service in the temple, we, too, can imitate Christ. “The keys are to be delivered,” said Joseph Smith, “the spirit of Elijah is to come, the Gospel to be established, the Saints of God gathered, Zion built up, and the Saints to come up as saviors on Mount Zion. But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads, in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem(ing) them.”
What more Christ-like gift could we possibly give than to go to the temple this Christmas season, to help, in our lesser and derivative way, to redeem God’s children? If we haven’t planned to attend the temple during this hectic and foreshortened month, perhaps we should. It may require special effort, but nothing could be more thoroughly in the spirit of the season.