Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 24, 2017)
The connection between the first reading and the Gospel is a question for every Sunday. The answer reveals the theme for the Mass. In today’s readings, the church has put David, the shepherd-king, and Mary, Jesus’ mother together. Why? Let’s look.
In the scene of the first reading we see David, alone and musing. He has conquered Jerusalem, built a safe wall around the city, built for himself a house of cedar - an upscale building material in Palestine. Now he thinks of the box that holds the tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments. Jews held the arc and stone tablets to be the place of the presence of God. David wishes to build a magnificent temple for God’s presence.
The prophet Nathan encouraged him in this. But, that night, god corrected Nathan [it is rare to have God correct a prophet]. Nathan returned to David and reminded him of blessings past: the victory over Goliath and many enemy armies, his becoming king . . . And a future blessing: God will establish a “house” for David. This works in English; we have the house of Dior, the house of Windsor. House denotes dynasty; here, the dynasty of David
God pointedly asks: “Do you build me a house?” In other words, “You have a lot to learn. Remember, you were the runt of the litter of your brothers. I made you the shepherd-king. Whose choice determines where I live - yours or mine?”
God - not humans - has the last word. It is wisely said: “Man proposes, but God disposes. David heard God and understood; he would later write in his Psalm 65, verse 5: “Happy the man you choose and bring to dwell in your courts.” David “got” it - finally. David wanted control; God did not allow that to happen.
Remember, this Gospel episode took place nine months before the nativity, Christmas. It is related today to make a point. The angel announced that Mary was God’s chosen one for a temporary dwelling place on earth. The angel told Mary that the reign of king David would likewise run right through her body in the conception of a child whose kingdom would have no end. Mary let God be God. She remained open - open to surprise -- and here she is called “blessed” among women, unlike David who tried to control.
In John’s Gospel, when Andrew met Jesus, he asked, “Where do you live?” Jesus answered: “Come and see.” Andrew went and learned that the “son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” No mailing address. Andrew would come to understand that Jesus’ dwelling place was within the hearts of his followers.
Also in John’s Gospel, the Samaritan woman says that the Samaritans worshipped God on Mount Gerizim, while Jews worship on Mount Sinai. Jesus replies that neither mountain will be the place for future worship. Worship will take place in one’s heart. The heart is where Jesus is found -- in “a house not built by human hands.”
The point? The theme? Jesus dwells within us. David and Mary are presented to us here as persons who said, “Yes” to Jesus’ call: David, with a detour; Mary, directly. She stands on the ledge of jeopardy and courageously leaps. Each came independently to deeper understanding about God. David tried to control, but eventually came to accept. Mary simply listened, accepted and committed.
St. Augustine thought that Mary conceived through her ear. This powerful image emphasizes the word that came through the ear, enters her heart and grows in her belly.
If we accept God into our hearts, God becomes incorporated within us, we then become more than someone with a personal life and a social life. We have a third dimension and share in the divine life. Theology has a name for this spiritual phenomenon “sanctifying grace.” We are also thereby equipped for a life of eternity -- a reality that begins now, not later.
In the still busy days between now and Christmas, let’s make the time to quiet ourselves and acknowledge that Emmanuel, God-with-us, is actually God within us - and listen and talk to him in an ongoing conversation that begins here and now and goes on forever. We may need to remind ourselves that eternity is already in place. A forever kingdom in God’s presence is much richer than merely the promise of a future time when we meet God face to face.