The Dwelling Place
This year, the fourth Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve. Many of us are drawn to Church on this day. My daughter and I always attend Midnight Mass, even when we are away on holiday; we join a small convoy of Catholics leaving the campsite at 11:30pm, cautiously driving along unfamiliar roads to the nearest Catholic church. We travel to the house of the Lord and gather in vigil of his birth.
The readings on this fourth Sunday of Advent focus on God’s house.
The first reading is from Samuel, and we hear of the tabernacle, the tent in which the Arc of the Covenant was placed outside King David’s city. For the Jews, the tabernacle was the most holy place in the universe, where Heaven and Earth overlaps. The Spirit of God dwelt within the tabernacle; it was God's house. Only on the most holy of days was the high priest allowed to enter the heart of the tabernacle where the arc was stored. They tied a rope around him so they could retrieve him if something went wrong in this sacred space. The presence of the living God was something frightening and dangerous - awesome and pure.
David's son, Solomon, eventually builds a temple for God, and the Arc of the Covenant is moved into the city. However, like the tent, the temple proves to be temporary, as it is destroyed like all our human-made buildings.
In the Gospel reading, God is building a new tabernacle, a new dwelling place, the place where Heaven and Earth overlaps.
This dwelling place is a person.
His name is Jesus.
In the Gospel, when the angel tells Mary she is to conceive, we hear the same language used about the tabernacle. He says, “The spirit of God will rest upon you” and "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” She is being told that God is with her – wholly and utterly.
In Mary's womb, God is building a dwelling place, one that allows for God to be in total solidarity with human beings. It is not a fancy cedar house like David's or a beautiful stone temple like Solomon's, but a fragile human body.
So, at Christmas we celebrate the completion of the dwelling place for the Lord. This house is not a fleeting one that human hands have made from bricks and mortar, but one God has made. It is a place where God came to live with us, and He welcomes us to live with Him forever.
We are within God’s house when we attend Mass in church, and we are God’s house. We are a temple for the real presence of the Lord when we receive the Host.
At Christmas, God comes to dwell in the world and through Jesus, the world can dwell in God.