A House for God
Series: Sermons for an Isolated Advent
Category: Bishop's Sermons
Speaker: The Rt Rev Mark D.W. Edington
Tags: advent, building, house, david mary
December 20, 2020 • The Third Sunday of Advent
Saint James’ Church, Florence, Italy
Text: Luke 1:38: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”
We are all about preparing houses at Saint James’s today. There is no small excitement about preparing the rectory for the arrival of Father Richard and his family. The lines connecting the Vestry leaders have been running hot this week with all that is being put into place to give our new pastor a truly warm and supportive welcome to our community.
And today, just after the service, we are preparing our own house—getting this beautiful church ready for the celebration of Christmas. Yes, it will be different. Yes, we have to follow the rules and be all spaced out and wear our masks. But O my Lord we need a celebration this year, don’t we? We need Christmas. And we want to make sure, for all those people who can’t be here to join us, that what they see will give them some Christmas joy, too.
We are excited. Getting things ready is always exciting. It means we’re looking ahead in anticipation. We want to be ready to meet the good thing that is coming with the best that we can be. That alone is enough to give us a little bit of joy—and how we need joy.
• • •
If you listened to the lessons this morning with ears of expectation, what they had to teach us is that we are doing exactly what we should be doing. We are preparing our house—and that is what at least two people are doing in the readings this morning.
There is nothing shy or retiring about King David. He is a big, bold personality. He knows what he wants, and whatever he wants he is determined to get, not always in the most honorable ways. He is, like all the rest of us, and imperfect, sinful man; but both the depth of his faithfulness and the outrage of his sinfulness are amplified, to say the least. He is a man with big appetites, big ambitions, and a big heart overflowing with love for God.
Today David has a huge ambition of preparation. He wants to build a house for God. All down through the centuries since Moses led the people out of Israel, God has lived among them in a tent. David wants to build God a proper house.
Now, it’s just possible that what’s really up here is that David wants to be known as the king who built a temple for God. Whenever we talk about David, we know there may be at least a couple of conflicting motives for what he wants to do. But the idea is plain: David is determined to build a temple for God.
The only problem is, God is not in the market for a temple. God is perfectly content in the tent of meeting. And God, as it turns out, has other plans for David, that don’t involve managing construction projects.
What follows in this story is a wonderful little object lesson in what happens when you try to debate with God. David announces that he is going to build a house for God. God replies by toying a little bit with David, pointing out that there doesn’t seem to be any record of God actually asking for a house.
And then comes the punch line: Yes, a house is going to be built, but it is God who will be doing the building. God is going to make a house out of David. God is the one who is making preparations. David will get to make his name out of the deal, but as the building material, not as the builder.
• • •
That is the very beginning of a story that ends in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, which we just heard, in the hidden meeting between Mary and Gabriel. Gabriel has come with an invitation; and if you think about it, it’s basically the bookend of the invitation that David first received.
God is making preparations again. God has been faithful to the promise to David; the House of David still endures, and Mary is a child of that House. Now, God is about to finish the work that was begun with David so long ago; God is going to bring forth the end of that promise, by coming as the one anointed as God among God’s own people.
God is coming into the world as a child. But now, the circumstances are exactly reversed; God needs Mary to do the thing he wouldn’t let David do. God needs a builder. Mary—gentle, sweet, faithful, anonymous Mary—is going to be that builder. It will be Mary, not David, who provides a house for God; because in the house of her body, the house of her own womb, is where the child will be knit together.
So much depends, not on a big bold king, but on a faithful, frightened teenager. And who knows but that the same is true today, somehow, somewhere.
That is the Advent question for all of us, my dear friends. Once we get done preparing the rectory, once we get done greening and decorating the church, we will all go home—and the question for all of us is, are we building a house for God there?
When we gather around our tables tonight, whether we are by ourselves or with our families, what will we do to prepare a house for the God who is coming? How will we follow the example of our sister Mary, who simply says yes?
Christ is the love of God, the mercy of God, the righteousness of God, the hope of God, the timelessness of God all gathered together and longing to be given birth into our world. What are we doing, how are we preparing, to receive him? How are you making a space ready for all that is coming?
The time is drawing near. The little family is on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The star is rising in the Eastern sky. God, grant us a sense of the joy to come, that we may set about preparing a place for you. Amen.