2 Samuel 7, 1-5,8-11, 16 + Psalm 89 + Romans 16, 25-27 + Luke 1, 26-38
MS Eurodam & St Sebastian Parish, Ft Lauderdale
The last of Advent’s prophets is heard today. Samuel is responsible for crowning David as King, and so the book that bears his name describes Israel’s transition from the period of the “Judges” to the Monarchy under Saul and David. It is not a history, but simply a series of episodes centered on the principal characters of Samuel, Saul, and David. Our church listens to Samuel just before Christmas because it can lead us to anticipate and prepare for the coming of one who brings hope to fulfillment, history to term, and holiness to perfection, Christ, the son of David and promised Messiah.
So there is way more to this passage than just a story telling about David’s desire to build a Temple, a dwelling for God motivated by the fact that David is living in a palace. Behind the resistance that Samuel reveals is the fact that in some way, David’s wish will be a way of controlling and containing God. “If I put God in a house, I will know where God is.” For those interested, it also reflects a theological shift from the age of the Judges to the Monarchy. In the previous age, under the leadership of the “Judges” the presence of God was experienced in the corporate community, the People of Israel. Now the shift goes to the monarchy. Where the King is the sign of God’s rule and presence.
At a deeper level, this matter leads us and prepares us to ponder again the mystery of the Incarnation, Christmas. In sharp contrast to David’s plan comes God’s plan. Instead of a Golden Temple in Jerusalem, there is a stable in an out of the way little town called: Bethlehem. Instead or royal robes and a king’s armor for battle, there are swaddling clothes that upon a second look appear to be a shroud. This contrast of images leads us to wonder about the dwelling place of God, and the light of faith leads us to see the Word Made Flesh as God’s choice to dwell within and among us.
Before our ancestors built great churches, God had already made a choice of where to dwell. There are some who believe that the very beginning of the Christian community’s possession of land and buildings was the beginning of trouble, and there is evidence to support that thinking. Everywhere in the western world today, church buildings are becoming a burden, source of division and conflict as leaders begin to deal with the fact that they cannot be maintained by a handful of people, and that the real works of charity and service are challenged by the demands of leaky roofs and heating bills for enormous buildings used a few hours a week by a congregation half the size they were built for. Meanwhile people go without roofs or heat because there is nothing left for them. This is not to suggest that we should have no place to meet, to pray, to worship, and be strengthened by God’s Word, but it is a reminder that what makes this place holy is the people who gather here in covenant. The Blessed Sacrament in that tabernacle could not be there without first assembling the faithful people in the presence of God to be fed by that sacrament.
What Samuel and David remind us of today is that the first dwelling place of God is in our hearts and in our lives. Understanding that truth and believing it changes the way we look at all of God’s people. The comfort we experience in a heated or cooled church with light and bathrooms and convenient parking should at once make us uncomfortable for those who have not, and in that way, these buildings serve a good and saving purpose. In thinking of this, I recalled something the late Cardinal Bernadine of Chicago is once said to have spoken at a dinner honoring wealthy donors. “The poor need you to help them, and you need the poor to keep you out of hell.”
We come into our churches in order to be sent out. That is the final instruction at the conclusion of every Mass. We come here hungry to be fed and are told to feed others. We cannot worship God in this place and hold in contempt or disrespect any of God’s children. This is the message we draw from David and Samuel. It is the earliest hint about what God has planned and will reveal in sending God’s only Son to live and die among us. As we look at the message of these readings, it seems we are being invited to savor the mystery. Through Nathan, God told David that it was not time to build a temple. God, not David, was building the future, and no temple should get in the way or try to circumscribe God’s initiatives. God cannot be walled in. As Nathan reminded David, God chooses to remain with us in our wanderings.
The familiar story of Mary’s experience must be ours as well. What we will soon celebrate is more than the birth of her child. It is mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of God’s life and presence within us all still waiting to be born.