Exodus 33:1-3. The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
Advents require a guide. When you’re waiting for the arrival of God, or journeying to a promised land, it sure is nice to have someone to show you when to move and where to go. For the Hebrews in Exodus that was God’s angel.
After the Exodus as soon as the Hebrews find themselves stuck at the Red Sea God sends his angel to protect and guide them through the sea to safety.
Exodus 23:20. “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.
Symbols Guiding Angels (1970), Salvador Dali (1904-1989).
From the Red Sea crossing, through the wilderness, and on to Mount Sinai it was very clear that the angel of God was guiding the nation. His visible pillar of smoke and fire meant that God himself was with them.
But then came Exodus 32. The infamous golden calf incident. The great rebellion of the people against God. As Moses was receiving more of the covenant of God on Mount Sinai, Aaron and the people were down below breaking that same covenant. In their discontent and impatience they were choosing not to wait for God’s arrival from the mountain top, but to create their own god out of their golden trinkets.
God, of course is furious. He wants to destroy the nation and start over with Moses, but Moses begs for their lives. And so God makes a counter offer. He tells the people that his angel will still guide them to the promised land but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.
God’s angel but not God?
The blessing without the Blesser?
An advent without the arrival of God?
Isn’t this what we have so often settled for? In our waiting we have molded our own golden calves. Things we can see that comfort our hearts more than the God we cannot see. In our waiting we have settled for God’s angel without God himself. God’s blessing without God. We want our own arrival at our “promised land” without caring if God arrives beside us.
How can you tell when you’ve done this? Check your happiness meter. What makes you happy? What robs you of happiness? To what in your life have you given that level of power? Whatever it is, it’s your golden calf, your guiding angel, your functional savior.
The beauty of this story in Exodus is that neither Moses nor the Hebrews will take God’s offer. They choose God’s presence and risk death over having just his angel.
Exodus 33:15. And [Moses] said to [God], “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.
The angel could still guide their way physically to the promised land. He could even destroy all of their enemies. But the angel of God could never satisfy the longing of their hearts. The longing that is in all of our hearts – the longing to see the glory of God himself!
Exodus 33:18. Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”
And so in our present advent what is guiding us? What is moving our hearts forward through the sea? What is resting our hearts at the mountain? What is sustaining us in the long wait for Christ to return?
The glory of God in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the glory of God that alone guides our hearts into the shared glory of his crucified life. Our union with him bringing us, like Moses, beyond our desire for the promised land and into the even greater desire for the promised presence.
What is guiding your heart this Christmas season? Is it the glory of the death and resurrection of Jesus? Is it your union with Christ and his presence that brings you hope, and peace, and joy? Have you checked your happiness meter lately?