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A Dwelling Place for Emmanuel

by Kevin Mullins, O.S.A.

I’m all but certain that all of us have had the experience of being asked to do something we thought we could not do.  And maybe we were right in thinking that — maybe we had stretched our capabilities or our efforts to the limit;  perhaps we had never even thought of doing what was being asked of us;  maybe it really was beyond our ability, maybe it was even impossible !

         But how many times have we discovered that what really needed to be done was for us to reconsider the situation, that maybe the thing we would never dream of attempting or doing on our own really was possible – with a little help from a friend !

         Today’s scriptures give us the account of two important persons in the story of salvation history.  The first story is about a Warrior-King named David — whose song was “I’ll do it my way!”  

The second story is about a woman named Mary — whose song said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Savior.”  Let’s take a closer look…

         King David began to think of ways in which to consecrate his power.  Planning to do something for God, David decided to build a permanent shrine for YHWH in the new capital.  Nathan the prophet, usually a tough-minded counselor to David, concurs and says, in effect, “Suit yourself !”

         Unfortunately, David’s motives were probably less pure than they might have appeared.  With a touch of arrogance, David has planned to take care of God.  

 Unfortunately, YHWH was not willing to give up the mobility of his warrior-existence in a tent — and so refused David’s “offer.”  God made it known that GOD IS GOD, and that David is David ! And after reminding David of the right-order of this universe, the Lord God of tiny Israel, and the Lord God of this vast world, turns David’s presumptuousness right on its head:

         Rather than David providing a House for God, God states that a house will be established for David, a dynasty that will last forever.  A son will come forth from the House of David and this house, God tells us, will outlast David and his big-house-plans.

         Perhaps the question David needed to ask, as do we, might be:  

Can I define God ?  Can I confine God ? Can I limit our God or the ways in which God chooses to work in our lives ?

Let’s move on to the second account in today’s scriptures, the story of a woman named Mary.  In due time, a messenger from God came to Mary and told her that she was to become the dwelling place of God’s own son.  “The Lord is with you,” Gabriel said to her, “and blessed are you among women.”  

         With these words God fulfilled his promise to David — but in a manner that neither the warrior-King nor any of his immediate successors would have ever suspected !  Yes, Mary was surprised; she was worried, she was even hesitant — but her hesitancy was  that of a faith-filled welcomer of God’s word.  She sought to understand God’s startling message.  Without pretense or presumption, Mary’s awareness of God’s will for her and for humankind dawned as gently as the morning. 

In love which was open and waiting she came to realize the double reality of her part in God’s plan of salvation:

         1)      that God made the Christ alive in her womb, and 

         2)      that she was to bring the Christ to birth in the world.

         In love which was open and waiting Mary welcomed God’s future and her place in it, saying:  

” I am the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be done to me as you say.”

         Mary had learned to forget the common prayer of the world, that God’s will be changed, and prayed, instead, the greatest prayer of the world:  that God’s will be done.

         If it ends there — it is a beautiful and powerful story.  But I don’t think it can end there, at least not for us !  For you see, the meaning of Israel’s life, of David’s life, of Mary’s life, and of our life is found in our relationship with God.  

David was quick to recognize his mistakes — he asked for God’s blessing, saying , “Do, then, bless the house of your servant.”  

         And so God did !  

         Both the Kingship and the Temple came to the House of David in a woman named Mary, a virtual nobody from a no-name town in Galilee called Nazareth.  Thus has God thrown down the rulers from their thrones and God has lifted up the lowly.  

         The words, “The Lord is with you” were spoken to Mary and they are spoken to us, the Church!  As God made the Christ alive in the womb of Mary, so too does God make the Christ alive in the womb of this community that is church.  And just as Mary was called to give birth to the Christ, so too are we, as church, called to give birth and life to the Christ in our world today.  

         On this fourth and last Sunday of Advent, we are confronted by the seeming impossibility of conceiving within ourselves the life of God and of bringing forth God’s Son into the world. 

         But let us not forget:  The Son of God was not conceived by any kind of human relationship or effort.  Rather, it was accomplished by the creative Spirit of God.  

         So it was with Mary, and so it must be for us and for the Church:  She who became the physical mother of God’s Son is a model for the Church and a model for each one of us as we seek to bring about God’s will for us and for our world.

         The only appropriate response is to declare ourselves servants of the Lord, to accept our servitude, and to remember that nothing is impossible with God ! 

         It is for us to discover God’s way and God’s will for our happiness.  It is for us to be the dwelling place for God’s abiding presence.  Let these last few days before Christmas be the time to prepare our hearts and our homes, physically and spiritually, to become fittingdwelling places for Emmanuel, the Christ who promises to be GOD-WITH-US, always and forever.

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