Fr. Charles Irvin
2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-11,16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
A seldom-used word in the English language is the word abide. It’s a word with several meanings among them being the idea of “lasting presence,” a concept presented to us in today’s readings. Often we think of it in terms of the question: “Where do we find God?”
King David felt he should build a temple in which God could abide among His people. Said David: “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!” In King David’s mind that wasn’t proper at all. God should have a magnificent temple in which to dwell and so David was determined to build it.
But God completely upset David’s plans. “What?” exclaimed God: “YOU” are going to build ME a house to dwell in? It was I who took you from tending flocks and made you commander of Israel. I destroyed your enemies who were arrayed in front of you. I appointed judges over my people Israel. I will establish a dynasty from you. I am in charge; you are not!”
Centuries upon centuries earlier men had decided to build a tower in Babylon thinking they would build it up so high that people could get up to heaven and to God because of their famous tower. But human pride and human specifications were the cause of that project. It was not God’s project. Human were in charge; God was not. God knocked their tower down and replaced their pride with utter confusion.
“Where do we find God?” is not the proper question. The real question is: “Where does God find us?” It is God who offers, we respond. In the Garden of Eden it was God who took the initiative; God came into the Garden in search of Adam and Eve, not the other way around. God never works according to human plans; He always works according to His own plans. It is He who comes to us.
In the fullness of time God came to us in a way that was far beyond anything that humans could imagine. God took up living among us in human flesh, in a way that would be impossible for humans to imagine could happen. The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin about to be married. Her name was Mary. She was greatly troubled, very puzzled, with Gabriel’s message to her. How could this possibly happen, she wondered? However, human pride had no hold on her whatsoever and so she replied: “May it be done to me according to your word.”
God wanted to abide in human flesh. God wanted to abide not only among us but more than that, within us… and so He set about building a temple of living stones. From Mary’s flesh God the Son took on human flesh… and then died to give it to us.
“How can this be?” we ask. “This is nothing we could possibly expect to happen!” “This is outside the laws of science.” “This is beyond reason.” This sort of thinking, we should note, takes us back to the builders of the Tower of Babel, to those who thought that building a bridge to God was something we humans should do, something that should be built according to our own thinking, according to our own specifications. Likewise this sort of thinking takes us back to Kind David and his determination to build a house for God to dwell in. But it is the wrong way to see things.
We must bear in mind always the truth that it is God who comes to us; it is God who has decided to build a temple built of living stones; it is God who has decided to abide within us. For us it is incomprehensible that God would abide with us in our ordinariness, in our littleness. God had to remind King David that He was with the Israelites ever since He brought them out of Egypt. He was with them in their tents, moving about with them as they wandered from Egypt to the Promised Land. His abode was with ordinary people, not in a magnificent temple.
“How is it,” we ask, “that God can want to be with us in such ordinariness?” How is it that God wants to abide with us in our ordinary days of the week, not just on Sundays in our temples? “How,” asks Mary, “can this be? I am just an insignificant young girl living in an obscure town called Nazareth and am about to be married. What will Joseph think? What will the people in my town think? This will be a mess!” “Fear not, Mary,” is Gabriel’s reply, “trust in the Holy Spirit. Go to your old cousin, Elizabeth, and see for yourself what God has accomplished in her old age.”
Today we are reminded once again that what we consider to be insignificant God considers to be significant. All human lives are significant in God’s eyes, whether they be homeless people living under bridges, immigrants, old folks waiting to die in nursing homes, prisoners, or even embryos and fetuses hidden in their mother’s wombs. Every human person has a destiny, the destiny to be a living temple in whom God abides.
It is our own human pride that declares what God can and cannot do. It is our own human pride that decides what is possible and what is impossible. This is why Mary plays such an important role in our spiritual lives. It is her humility that allows God to do what He wants to do. It is Mary’s humility that we desperately need , along with her willingness to trust in the incomprehensible things God wants, particularly living as we do today in the world that surrounds us, a world so filled with human pride and arrogance that God must now visit upon us what He visited upon the builders of the Tower of Babel.
Can we give God our own “Yes” as Mary did? Can we set aside our own plans, our own ways of doing things and let the unexpected and incomprehensible happen within us. Can God have a place in your ordinary days and live with you in them? There was no room for Him in the inn at Bethlehem, can there be room for Him in your heart during each of your ordinary days? After all, God has a desire to abide with you. He is your awesome Friend who wants to come over to your house and spend time with you, just as all friends do. Remember, the real question is not “Where do we find God?” it is rather “Where does God find us?” And the next question is; “Will we let Him?”
Can we abide with God’s plan to abide within us? If so, then the work of the Holy Spirit at that first Christmas will work in us… and once again Christ will be born not only among us but within us.