When looking at the Sunday Readings and trying to understand what they are about one very useful rule of thumb is that there is generally a connection between the First Reading and the Gospel. This gives a good indication as to what direction to take.
The First Reading this Sunday is from the Book of Samuel. King David full of zeal and enthusiasm wants to build a temple fit for the Lord and he asks the Prophet Nathan for guidance. Nathan is initially positive but then has a vision in which he is told that it is not David who is to build the Temple but his son Solomon.
David has already done great things but the Lord wants to remind him that all that has been achieved is God’s doing. It is not David who provides a home for the Lord but the Lord who provides a home for David and for the people of Israel. Indeed, there is a wonderful pun involved here. David does not build a house for the Lord but instead the Lord provides a house for David —what he provides him with is a great family of descendents: the House of David. And we ourselves are indeed spiritual descendents of David; we are therefore part of his great House.
But even when the Temple is eventually built it is not going to be a permanent structure; after all, it was destroyed twice. The Temple was a place of sacrifice to the Lord and it contained the Holy of Holies where God was said to dwell. The whole idea of the Temple as a place to contain the Lord is, in a sense, quite extraordinary. It is, of course, impossible to contain the uncontainable. But we humans cannot seem to comprehend God unless we are able to pin him down to a specific time and place.
Our human limitations cannot easily cope with a God who is always and everywhere. It is much easier for us to compartmentalise and to confine God to the tabernacle, to the Church. We can get on with our lives and turn to him on Sundays or other special times when we come to Church. In this way we find that God does not cramp our style as we live out our daily life.
But if we are to think about God as he really is, it is quite a different story. For God is with us at every moment, in every thought and word and deed. His presence is one of total intimacy; he is closer to us that we are to ourselves. Wonderful as this may sound some find this a bit worrying, a bit difficult, and altogether too much to cope with. We might feel that God is crowding us a bit and that there is no private area we can call our own.
It might be natural to think like this if we were talking about any other kind of relationship. But this is a relationship of love. And yet it is not to be merely equated with the sort of love we humans feel; no, this is a relationship of love with God himself. It is love raised to a far higher level that we could ever think of for ourselves.
This is mind-blowing stuff! By refusing to limit God to specific times and spaces and by opening ourselves up to him in his infinite goodness we are enabled to live on a completely different level from those around us. We find ourselves living on intimate terms with the High King of Heaven. He is ever-present to us, we are in constant conversation with him and we walk together on this wonderful journey we call life.
This marvellous relationship is exemplified in the Gospel account we are presented with today; the story of the Annunciation. Mary is so open to God and so close to him that God chooses to manifest himself in the shape of Jesus who is literally born in her.
Thus it is that the final decisive chapter in the story of our salvation is begun. The deep holiness of this simple girl, Mary of Nazareth, becomes the opportunity for Christ to make his appearance and to bring about the salvation of the whole human race.
It is magnificent and mysterious and it is an immensely satisfying sequence of events which is quite staggering in its scope. And it brings us to our knees when we take the time to contemplate what God has done.
On this last Sunday of Advent we begin more intensively to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. There are the many practical things to do: the buying of presents, the shopping for food and all the necessities of a great feast. But we do not forget that this great feast is in honour of the Lord and we take time to prepare ourselves spiritually as well.
We look at Mary and we see in her simplicity and in her obedience to God’s will a wonderful model for our own lives. We cannot imagine very clearly what went through her mind on that extraordinary day or on the subsequent days of her pregnancy and all that came afterwards. All we know is that she placed herself at God’s disposal; and that he found her to be a worthy vessel to carry his only begotten Son.
The mighty King David was not permitted to provide a home for the Lord. But his descendent, not the immensely wealthy Solomon, but the poor and simple Virgin Mary was chosen instead. She was not to build a Temple for God but to be the Temple of God.
We contemplate this great mystery and we stand in awe of what God brought into being and we pay honour and reverence to his handmaid Mary. And it is our prayer today that we may imitate her and be so open and welcoming to God that he may make his true home in us and that we will carry him to all those we encounter.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket