In our lives of faith this year, we all experienced a very unique time when we were separated from this physical building. For some of us this is still the case, as understandably we all have different levels of risk we can accept for ourselves and for our loved ones around us. But regardless, the point is we all now know – at least a little bit – what it is like to have no sacred space anchoring us to the experience of God.
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 and the Lord needs a temple instead of a movable ark. But as David realizes all this and decides 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 there was a greater temple He would build Himself. Remember again what he said: “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 in a few days, 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.
Now please don’t get me wrong, this physical church building of brick and mortar is not insignificant. When we could not be here it was sad, it was disorienting, it broke the routine and the habits that help us to stay centered and focused on our relationship with Christ. I will have many homilies in the years to come about how important this physical space is. But the idea that I’m hoping to have you dwell on today as we draw near to Christmas is that we also find in our relationship with each other the reflection of the love of God.
This Advent I’ve been talking to you about friendship, and the idea that intentionally drawing close to each other in love, understanding, listening, and all these good things… that this is how we grow as a community and as God’s holy people as we prepare the way for the second coming of Christ. If this place is holy because God’s word is proclaimed here, how much more holy is every human being who was made in God’s image? If this place is holy because the sacraments make the grace of Christ present in physical signs, how much more holy is every human being who Christ made his brother and sister by sharing in our humanity? If this place is holy because we find here the strength to seek salvation, how much more holy is every human being whose salvation is what God longs to see?
Jesus Christ came into this world and took on human flesh. That’s what we will celebrate in a few days. And he did that because he wanted to be our friend. He wanted to be Emmanual – God with us – and make sure that we would never be separated from him again. May we see each other the way that God sees us… as friends… and may that be the foundation of the community that makes these buildings come to life.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.