The third set of seasons God gave the Israelite nation reminded them of their experience with God at Mt. Sinai. It kicks off with the Feast of Trumpets.
The LORD said to Moses, "Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. On the first day of the appointed month in early autumn, you are to observe a day of complete rest. It will be an official day for holy assembly, a day commemorated with loud blasts of a trumpet. You must do no ordinary work on that day. Instead, you are to present special gifts to the LORD." (Leviticus 23:23-25 NLT)
The trumpets remind them of the ram’s horn being blown at Mt. Sinai to announce the presence of God. (See Exodus 19:13b, 16-19 for more detail.) God came to them in the form of fire and smoke, descending on the mountain in a way that terrified them. They were reminded of how sinful they were in the presence of a Holy LORD God, so they were purified to atone for their sins. The Day of Atonement reminds them of this part of their God-encounter.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Be careful to celebrate the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of that same month--nine days after the Festival of Trumpets. You must observe it as an official day for holy assembly, a day to deny yourselves and present special gifts to the LORD. Do no work during that entire day because it is the Day of Atonement, when offerings of purification are made for you, making you right with the LORD your God. All who do not deny themselves that day will be cut off from God's people. And I will destroy anyone among you who does any work on that day. You must not do any work at all! This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed from generation to generation wherever you live. This will be a Sabbath day of complete rest for you, and on that day you must deny yourselves. This day of rest will begin at sundown on the ninth day of the month and extend until sundown on the tenth day." (Leviticus 23:26-32 NLT)
Once atonement was made, they could draw near to God. They were terrified of drawing near to God, though. So, they asked Moses to go speak with God on their behalf and then return to them with God’s instructions. Even though God terrified them, so God instructed them to build a tabernacle (booth, tent, or shelter) where God would dwell. This is one of the reasons for the Festival of Shelters.
"Remember that this seven-day festival to the LORD--the Festival of Shelters--begins on the fifteenth day of the appointed month, after you have harvested all the produce of the land. The first day and the eighth day of the festival will be days of complete rest. On the first day gather branches from magnificent trees--palm fronds, boughs from leafy trees, and willows that grow by the streams. Then celebrate with joy before the LORD your God for seven days. You must observe this festival to the LORD for seven days every year. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed in the appointed month from generation to generation. For seven days you must live outside in little shelters. All native-born Israelites must live in shelters. This will remind each new generation of Israelites that I made their ancestors live in shelters when I rescued them from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 23:39-43 NLT)
When the festival was celebrated, they would leave their homes and live in tents to remind them that their ancestors lived in tents by Mt. Sinai. In fact, they continued living in tents for the next forty years. They weren’t alone, though, because God had taking up dwelling in a tent as well – right in the middle of their camp.
And the LORD said to Moses, "Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. Begin celebrating the Festival of Shelters on the fifteenth day of the appointed month--five days after the Day of Atonement. This festival to the LORD will last for seven days. On the first day of the festival you must proclaim an official day for holy assembly, when you do no ordinary work. For seven days you must present special gifts to the LORD. The eighth day is another holy day on which you present your special gifts to the LORD. This will be a solemn occasion, and no ordinary work may be done that day. (Leviticus 23:33-36 NLT)
They were reminded that they lived in tents, but that God lived in a tent with them. God was with them, wherever they went. We remember that God is with us because Jesus is called Emmanuel: God with us. Christmas is our time of remembering that God draws near to us.
How about you? Do you find it frightening or comforting that God draws near to us? How do you celebrate God drawing near?