2 Samuel 7:1-16, Luke 1:26-38
As we come to the Fourth Sunday of Advent, our Gospel text focuses on Mary, who has remained hidden so far. It is difficult to preach on Mary. That is not because there is nothing to say about her. She is so simple and complete in her beauty, rather, that anything said, easily detracts from her beauty. This Sunday, the Church presents this much loved scene of the Annunciation against the larger background of the Hebrew Scriptures. Mary stands at the apex or a turning point, if you may, of the larger story of salvation. God has been working this out with his people Israel for a thousand and more years. We cannot begin to penetrate the mystery of Mary without this background.
We have before us, a pivotal scene in the Bible. David, having established his reign over all of Israel – and this has taken up about forty years of his life already – is now in a time of peace. He suddenly realises to his embarrassment, that he is living in a splendid mansion, while the ark of the Covenant, the presence of God among Israel is in a tent. This ark was always in a tent from the time of Moses who consecrated it. And David decides he should build a temple. A plan to which his court prophet, Nathan agrees – maybe too quickly. But then, God taps him on the shoulder and sends him back with another answer.
Why does God not want David to build him a Temple? We are not told. There is no reason to assume anything bad of David’s motives. It seems to arise from a genuine desire to reverence God. It was always God’s desire to dwell among his people; that’s why there is an ark. And God would eventually sanction the building of a Temple – which Solomon will build. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time. Maybe it was becoming David’s project and God wanted to save him from his pride. Or maybe, there was, even in the midst of this otherwise noble intention, the temptation to possess, to control God in some way. This is the constant temptation man faces, right from Adam and Eve – they reached for a fruit which would put their destiny in their own hands. To listen to God and wait and follow, was much more difficult. The Tent was a disposable dwelling. When Israel wandered in the wilderness, it was the Cloud of Glory on the Tent which indicated to Israel when to move and when to stay. Not Moses or anyone else. When the Cloud lifted from the Tent, Israel would follow the Ark. God was in charge. He was the one who led them through all things, all dangers, into the promised land. But that is also a fearful image. God is not in our control and cannot be controlled. It is always tempting to know that if I go to a particular place, God will be there, rather than constantly following a God on the move.
But God wasn’t chastising David. In fact, it is his desire that he recognises and promises to fulfil in a way David could never have dreamt would happen. It is God himself who will build a house. This house will be one where he will be a Father to his son – most immediately Solomon – but really, the greater Son who will come with David’s name, Christ himself. This was a temple where God was in relationship with man; a relationship is dynamic, things change, grow. It is not static, where if I do or say the right thing, I can obtain what I need. Solomon will eventually build a Temple – it will mostly be David’s work, even then. God will bless this work. It will be the pride and joy of the Jews. It will also be the center of most political controversies. This temple would stand for another four hundred years or so – and then it would be brought down, along with Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
Fast forward several hundred years more. There’s another temple being built. This one, for far less honourable motives than David. It is Herod the Great’s project. Herod was not even a legitimate king. And he is certainly not loved by the people. To win the favour – and legitimise himself as the rightful king – he builds the Temple in Jerusalem. This is the one who will kill all the children – remember him? This child killer is the one building the Temple. Eighteen years into its construction, well away from where all the action is happening – in a remote corner of a village, in Nazareth, an angel is sent to a lowly girl – about 14 years of age. God wants to ask her consent to be his temple. This is God’s doing. And she immediately replies with a whole hearted yes. She asks, of course about what this might mean – but it is not about anything that we would first think she would have asked about. It is not about whether she would survive this. She doesn’t ask about whether God is going to inform Joseph about this. She says yes. In this, there is no grasping. She lets go. She lets all of herself go into the simple assurance of God’s word. And in doing so, she brings about something completely new. Irenaeus used to say, the yes of Mary undoes the knot of Eve’s sin – the Ave of the angel reverses Eva. While Eve tried to grasp at divinity through the fruit – while David, maybe even without knowing went in the direction of grasping at the Presence of God, while Herod was in the very process of procuring for himself sovereignty using the Name of God, there was, in one frail girl’s letting go of everything and herself – the true Temple established in the world.
What is it that you are grasping, holding onto at this time? In our fallen state, we constantly try to grasp at divinity – at power, at wealth, at relationships – we try to make ourselves great and our best efforts, even with our best intentions fall short. The promise that God made to David, now comes to be fulfilled in a way neither David – nor anyone else – could have imagined. It was far greater than any of David’s plans. When God acts, it is something that is beautiful, whole and lasts. It is gentle. It has no trace of the violence of Herod. God wants to make you and me, his dwelling place. We don’t have to grasp at God, he comes down to us. With Mary, something completely new appears in the world. Being untainted by the fall of man, her ‘yes’, the Catechism says, covers for all humanity. We can’t let go to God fully but in Mary’s hands, this can change. Give your deepest desires to Mary. She will bring about something completely new. In doing so, she prepares us to be the living temple of God, just as she is. She will make you a beautiful vessel, a fit temple, in which God will be pleased to dwell.