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God’s Dwelling

4th Sunday of Advent, Year B

In the seminary right around the end of the semester we used to do a church tour and take a day to visit some of the different church buildings in Cleveland. The old city churches are impressive buildings but more impressive is the story of the communities that created them. One I always remember is an old stone church that was literally built by the parishioners. While the walls were still being built, on Sundays the parishioners would go to mass in the unfinished church and then after mass they would take their horse-drawn carriages to the stone query, carve out some more blocks, take them back to the church, and build the walls up just a little more. The literally built their church themselves… not something you could even dream about doing today. But even if you don’t know the story of a community and what they left behind, whenever you step into a church there is a presence… there is a felt awareness that something is sacred about the physical place in which you stand. Churches – or to use the language of scripture, temples – are places where God dwells, places where His presence is felt and known and experienced.

For a long time, the people of Israel had no temple, no church, no structure to encounter the LORD. Early on they were nomadic, traveling out of Egypt and wandering the desert and slowly settling in the Promised Land. So instead of a building they had the ark of the covenant, the physical embodiment of their covenant with the LORD and his presence to them. They carried the ark wherever they went, and pitched a tent for it wherever they stopped. In the first reading, King David realized that now that they have settled in Jerusalem the LORD needs a temple instead of a movable ark. But as David realizes all this and decides that building a temple is the next thing to do the LORD stops him. The LORD says: “Should you build me a house to dwell in?… I have been with you wherever you went” and the LORD then promises instead that He will build David a house, a royal lineage that will last forever. In other words, the LORD will be present to His people in the way he chooses and will build his temple when he chooses.

The LORD would eventually allow Solomon to build the Temple in Jerusalem, but kind of like those immigrants traveling to the stone query every Sunday, the LORD had a greater temple He would build Himself. Remember what he said in the first reading: “Should you build me a house to dwell in?… I have been with you wherever you went.” The LORD’s real dwelling place was with His People, and to make that a physical reality he does something far greater than creating a building in their city. In the Gospel, he builds the temple for Himself that David never could. When Mary spoke her fiat – her statement of “let it be done” – the first stone was placed as humanity itself became the physical dwelling place of God’s presence. As we celebrate with reverence and joy tomorrow, Jesus Christ took on human flesh and dwelt amongst us… which makes us the temple, makes us the Church, makes us the place of God’s holy dwelling. Blessed be God for the wonders that He has done for us.


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