Fourth Sunday of Advent. Today’s readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38


Throughout this past year, houses have featured in the news for a variety of reasons.

Protests have been held to oppose high-rises and to remember buildings that collapsed. Petitions have been presented for houses of historical value that ought to be protected. Attention has also been drawn to the ever-increasing reality of homelessness on our streets, of those who call their car their home, or third-country nationals who live in cramped, overcrowded apartments.

From time to time we have been reminded of the rising house prices that first-time home buyers are faced with and how rent is beyond what many people on minimum wage can afford.

Clearly where we dwell, where we make our home, has a meaning that goes beyond mere function. It also expresses who we are, the values we embrace and the choices we make. Above all, it reflects how we welcome one another.

All these thoughts crossed my mind as I gazed at a crib, the central feature of which was a humble cave with uneven surfaces. In this little cavern, lit by a dim LED light, were three little handmade clay statuettes of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, accompanied by a cow and a donkey and a couple of sheep.

Mary’s ‘yes’ is not just a historical instant that happened 2,000 years ago; it is also an attitude that we must echo today as well

A close friend confided in me that she found it hard to enter the Christmas spirit this year, not because there was a lack of Christmas decorations or a shortage of Christmas songs, but because of all the wars and violence going on around us. We agreed that the feast of God’s solidarity with the suffering of humankind is particularly poignant this year.

In today’s liturgy readings, there is one whole play on words, on houses, abodes and dwelling places.

In the first reading, we see a proud King David who has emerged victorious over numerous battles and now wants to encase the final gem on his crown by building a temple for the Lord. However, God speaks to David through his Prophet Nathan, telling him he does not need David to prepare a place where to dwell, for ever since the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, God did not cease dwelling among his people.

The Tent of the Presence that Moses pitched up wherever they went as they crossed the desert is a clear example of this. God insists it is not David who will build a house for him, but it is God who will build one for David. Indeed, God promised to build not a house, but a household. More still, an entire dynasty.

Dominican nun and biblical scholar Barbara Reid reads in these lines a not-so-subtle criticism of the monarchy that Israel embraced, much to God’s disapproval, and that is to be eventually replaced by a kingdom of mercy and meekness with the birth of Jesus.

Between Heaven and Earth, by Gerhard LohfinkBetween Heaven and Earth, by Gerhard Lohfink

Between the lines of today’s Gospel of the Annunciation, a dwelling place to God’s liking is finally found. God chose to dwell not in a magnificently-adorned temple but in the virgin womb of a young woman in Nazareth. In his book Between Heaven and Earth, Gerhard Lohfink insists that Mary’s “yes” is at once a receiving and an accepting of the Messiah. Her “yes” is not just a historical instant that happened 2,000 years ago; it is also an attitude that we must echo today as well.

God comes to dwell right there, in the humblest of places, those parts of our being that are rough-edged and shabby that we would rather hide. Yet we must also be ready to humbly receive and accept the Messiah, knowing the suffering of this life will not just magically disappear. Yet God is there, dwelling among us, if we make space for God.

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