The 4th Sunday of Advent at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
December 22, 2002
2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14-16 + Romans 16: 25-27 + Luke 1:26-38
The prophet and the evangelist combine on Advent’s last Sunday to lead us at last to Christmas. Nathan, the prophet mediates a conversation between God and David through which we may consider the mysterious divine purpose that has been operative since David was taken as shepherd boy to be commander of God’s people. It will climax in keeping Israel safe from its enemies and in the establishment of a lasting house for the line of David. All is now well for Israel. The enemies have been defeated – Goliath has fallen. The building of Jerusalem unites the divided kingdoms. A splendid palace has been built, and now David would build a splendid Temple. A sophisticated urban life has settled over these people. They are comfortable, secure, and very self-satisfied. Everything is under their control, and now the last wild, uncontrolled part of their life remains, and they turn their attention to God wanting to establish God’s dwelling place.
In effect, they want to domesticate God. But God says, “NO” to that. The covenant will not be placed in a particular space, but rooted in a person: David, and his posterity. It is not the prerogative of humankind to contain the presence of God in any temple, ark, or tabernacle. As the Gospel makes clear if the Prophet does not, it is God’s choice to be present through Incarnation in human flesh.
The struggle to domesticate God, to control God, to confine God, and even to exclude God continues to this day. But God is no more interested in tabernacles and temples now than then, no more likely to abandon human life which is God-made for a dwelling man-made now than then. But the struggle goes on. We build our churches, tabernacles, and temples, like this one, and run the risk of thinking we’ve got God cornered. This is a place is for us to assemble renewing God’s vision and plan for creation, to proclaim a presence of God that has no limits, to affirm that all human life is the divine dwelling place, now, not later. We catch here the wild spirit of God that will not be contained cannot be denied, and will never be excluded. But the struggle goes on.
We would put God in a temple and deny the presence of God in an unwanted, or unplanned pregnancy in order to preserve our comfortable secure life-style or our career plans. We would take control over life and death and terminate that life. We would put God in a temple and deny the presence of God in those who through our very imperfect “justice system” now sit on death row awaiting termination of life. We would put God in a temple while planning for war, hardening our hearts to the death of women and children as collateral damage not remembering that human life is the chosen dwelling place of God. We would put God in a temple while we reduce human life to misery and hunger, and deny health care to the poor and unemployed. But yet we build this temple so that we might think about these things, and hear the prophet and the Gospel inviting us to think again about where God lives. The temple in which we sit today is a place of conversion and revelation, not a place to contain God at the cost of God’s chosen dwelling place.
It is good then to be here. It is good to hear these difficult and challenging words of Prophet and Evangelist hours before Christmas so that our celebration of this feast may not be preempted by commercials, consumers, and the economy, nor lost in convenient sentimentality. God’s presence in the world is what this feast is all about: no longer the presence of a baby lying in a manger, but rather a presence in what that baby symbolizes: every homeless, unwelcomed, and foreign human being. This presence gives human history its fundamental orientation. This is a presence that reorients us toward God.
It is the Presence we celebrate. It is the Presence that gives cause for Joy. It is the Presence that takes away our fear. It is the Presence that grounds our morality in respect of our selves as temples of the living God, and respect for every human life. The message of Luke’s angel, Gabriel is spoken in this church today. The Holy Spirit has come upon us. Out of our barrenness, our weakness, our sinfulness, and the chaos of this world, God creates again. The model disciple rises up from the readings of this day, Mary.
In contrast to David, she knew where God lives, and she summons us as well to ponder in our hearts the meaning and purpose of this presence and this mystery, and to acknowledge and affirm the dwelling place of God.