Advent 04, Year B, and Christmas

All sing in their festive dance: “Within you is my true home” (Ps. 87:7)

King David proposes to build a house for the Lord. The Lord disposes otherwise, however, and suggests, first of all, that he prefers to live as do his people—moving from place to place and making use of a tent as a dwelling. Secondly, the Lord issues the reminder that divine grace has brought David safe thus far. And the same grace, the Lord goes on to promise, will lead David home—he will establish for David a house that shall endure forever.

This, then, is home: not that we built God a house, but that he built us a house; we build because God first built. Indeed, credit and glory ought to be given, as St. Paul affirms in the first reading, to the only wise God through Jesus Christ.

Through and in Jesus, the incomparable Lord, enthroned on high, stoops from the heights in order to raise the needy from the dust and lift the poor from the ash heap (cf. Ps. 113:5-7). Jesus—“according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to the nations to bring about the obedience of faith”—is the fullest meaning and the ultimate point of reference of the passage: “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. It is he who shall build a house for my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever.” Jesus, the God-with-us, is the home God meant to establish for David and all the nations. It is at this home that God delights definitely and definitively in dwelling with the children of men (cf. Prov. 8:31).

And insofar as Jesus, while divine, is also at one and the same time human to the utmost, he represents once for all the home built for God’s name by one sprung from David’s loins. Jesus, the son of God and the son of David, demonstrates that human beings can build the house, and need not labor in vain, when they recognize the Lord himself as the lead builder (Ps. 127:1). Jesus—who did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and coming in human likeness—is the only human house of worship truly acceptable to the Creator of all things, who has the heavens for his throne and the earth for his footstool, since Jesus is the lowly and afflicted man, par excellence, who is in awe of God’s word and, hence, approved by him (cf. Is. 66:1-2, Phil. 2:6-11, and Heb. 5:7-8).

Jesus is approved, however, not just for his humility and his living not by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. Jesus is further approved because of his humble obedience unto death, because of his shedding his blood for the forgiveness of sins, his giving of himself for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2). His blood speaking more eloquently than that of Abel (Heb. 12:24), Jesus receives from God the throne of David his father and builds—in place of him whose noble proposition did not meet God’s disposition because of the blood of others that he had shed, way too much of it in God’s sight (1 Chron. 22:6-8)—a house for God’s name.

The Eucharist, then, is home. In communion, God is at home with us and we are at home with him. In the Eucharist is the real presence of the Word made flesh, of the one who pitched his tent among us, so that we might, as God’s children, become members of the divine household and might also provide, by the Holy Spirit’s coming upon us and our being overshadowed by the Most High’s power, a home for the Word. The Mass that is Christmas proclaims that there is a match, a communion, between human proposition and divine disposition only to the extent that human beings give up the arrogance of the one who claims “I, and no one else” (Is. 47:8, 10) and embrace the humble obedience of the Lord’s handmaid.

Although deeply troubled and wondering, Mary recognized that God’s power could make virginity and barrenness compatible with childbearing. She said, therefore, “May it be done to me according to your word.” Made confident by her humility and modesty, as St. Bernard suggests in a homily (cf. the non-biblical reading in the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours for the December 20), and prudent by her virginal simplicity, Mary gave the “yes” long and eagerly awaited by Adam, by David, by all the patriarchs and all her other ancestors, by all the human race, by all the earth. Given the home that God equally gives to the barren wife (Ps. 113:9), she typifies or personifies the new Jerusalem, in whom all find their true home.

My Advent and Christmas wish is that, like Mary, we who make up the Church have such a humble, modest, confident, simple, prudent and obedient faith that we are given a home by God. And believing firmly that the greatness of the King, whose Second Coming we await in joyful hope, is very much compatible with the littleness of especially the least of his brothers and sisters, we may recognize him in them, in their hunger, in their loneliness, in their misfortune, and make a home for them, for him, and truly become the Church, the communion, of the Poor.