Year B Advent 4
For decade after decade, from the very beginnings of God’s revelation of himself to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, through all the years wandering in the desert and even after King David had established the nation of Israel as a regional power, God dwelt in a tent. The technical word for the tent is “tabernacle.” In many churches, such as our Basilica Cathedral, the altar itself is covered by a baldichino, which is reminiscent of a tent covering over the presence of God. When the Israelites were on the march, the tribe of Levi was in charge of taking down the tent, packing up all the sacred items that were inside not least of which was the ark of the covenant, and protecting them during the day’s travel. A lot of effort was put into designing the tabernacle and furnishing the inside with costly items of devotion, and much of the way the sanctuary of a catholic Church would traditionally have been arranged was based on the instructions of God to Moses about how to worship him.
King David became powerful and wealthy and, because he was a man after God’s own heart, he desired to build a permanent home for God, a temple. You have to look at our reading from Samuel very closely, but God says No. The reason he declines the offer is because David in his life has fought many wars and has blood on his hands. He is not the man for the job and the time isn’t right. It will be David’s son Solomon who will build the temple.
Before the advent of Christ, God revealed himself progressively so that he could create a people for himself, a people with a vocation to create for him a home. He gathered them up, protected them, gave them the law, and all of these strange guidelines about food to eat because he was creating a people who were distinct from the tribes around them. It took centuries, but God is patient. He began by calling Abraham out from the pagans, then giving the law to Moses, then having a temple built where sacrifice might be offered, and finally, when the time was right, when everything was prepared, he took on human flesh and made his home with the Virgin Mother.
Today is Our Lady’s Sunday in Advent. Pope Paul VI, when he was working to revise the liturgy, wanted to envelop the Christmas mystery in the gentle presence of the Virgin Mother. He restored the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on January 1, eight days after the nativity of Our Lord, so what he have is the Christ child, wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger, surrounded entirely by the love of his mother. We celebrate Mary both before Christmas and after.
When non-Catholics ask me why the Church honors Mary so much, the reason is because she is indispensable to the advent of Christ. Her womb was his home for 9 months, and she knew him with the intimacy that exists only between mother and child. She nurtured him with her very body, gave him her flesh, and became the very home of Our Lord on earth.
This connection still exists. The prayer over the offerings at this Mass asks the Holy Spirit to bless the Bread and the Wine that are laid upon the altar in the same way that he “Filled with his power the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” In other words, the womb of Mary is a type of altar, and every time Our Lord becomes present to us through the words of consecration at the Mass, he arrives via the virginal womb. In this way, she has become the temple. In fact, she is a far greater temple because what the temple of the Old Testament only hinted at is made fully present in her. The birth of Christ is the fulfillment of everything that God has prepared from the beginning of time.
Lord Alfred Tennyson, in a poem called “Crossing the Bar” that used to be read at every funeral, talks about death and journeying to heaven as being a like heading out onto the deep and vast ocean. He writes,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
We are made by God and our home is with him. The tabernacle, the Temple, the womb of the Blessed Virgin – all are models for the way he has built for himself a dwelling within us, within our very hearts, and somehow, someway he draws us steadily towards our eternal destiny. As he draws near, make your heart ready to receive him and he will guide you home.