Joe Neville

2 Samuel 7:1-5

Luke 1:26-38



I Will Make You a House


The first three Sundays of Advent gave us images of an adult Jesus, heralded by his cousin John, waiting to be baptized in the River Jordan, preparing for a ministry of reconciliation and healing. It is only on the fourth Sunday of Advent that our scriptural calendar turns us back to the event of the annunciation and moves us toward the birth of the Christ child. We realize that as we countdown to the Holy Night, our scripture lessons lead us there as well. Funny that as we move closer to the light, the image of Jesus gets younger and filled with innocence.

The gift of these four weeks before Christmas, if we would give it to ourselves, is the time of preparation for the birth of the Spirit in us, is the time we take to discover and embrace the life of the Spirit growing fresher and more innocent as we prepare for the Word made flesh coming to dwell among us.

It has been such a busy season, I was caught unawares by the feeling of hollowness that came over me this past week. At first, I thought it was just exhaustion and relief from all the preparation and goings on. Then I noticed a longing and an opening, which I now believe is the spirit of Advent at work.

Our longings can be especially powerful this time of year. Our secret, silent yearnings can be lost in the rush for Christmas and we distract ourselves in our longing. We can be too easily deceived into believing that what we really want is a new computer or a new toy or even a phone call from an absent loved one and then we will have all we need and Christmas will really be here. We tend to want to fill up the hollow spaces in our hearts as quickly and as efficiently as possible. There is disappointment at Christmas–we think we should be celebrating, jolly, bright, hopeful and helpful. We are supposed to be whole and holy at Christmas. But Advent is the time we have to hold empty the place where unconventional, love belongs.

King David thought he would be happy if he could establish a palace for the ark of the covenant with God. He, too, wanted to fill things up as fast and as well as he could. In response, God promises David that God cannot be contained in a physical house. The house of God is a spiritual house made out of eternal existence! God can't be put in one place or established in a single dwelling. God can't be found in a single place or a single experience or a single mood–God is constantly on the move and can't be secured into a single identity. God was on the move as the people of Israel moved through their journey of life.

The spirit of God is moving and always on the move in our life as well. The spirit comes to us in surprising ways. The empty heart fills its holes in strange, unexpected moments. It comes to us in an announcement by an angel to a young girl in a long ago far away place. It comes in a community of people who care enough about God and each other to move God into the world through acts of caring and compassion. It comes as we hold the hands of our children and splash the water of life on their innocent and hopeful faces, as we hold our babies and rock them with ecstatic gratitude for their coming to be with us. It comes as we pass by a homeless man and he holds up a 50 dollar bill someone has just given him and it comes as I write a card to an old friend now in a nursing home and wonder whether she will even remember my name.

In other words, the spirit is made manifest in a person; there is carnality in the act of the incarnation. A baby, a body, a being, even a building–all can manifest the truth about the word become flesh, but at the same time it can't be held. That doesn't mean the truth of the Spirit is going to be easy or easily understood–the mystery contained in our flesh is just that, a mystery.

Look at Mary. She was deeply perplexed and terrified of the Incarnation. No wonder, an angel has burst in on her ordinary life with a terrible message. She is filled with holy terror, partially because of the news, but also because it is very scary whenever we are brought into the presence of the living God.

The angel knows how to mediate this terrifying intrusion with words we all want to hear.

"Don't be afraid! You have found favor with God."

"Here I am," she responds with such simplicity and faith, as the angel reminds her, "With God nothing is impossible."

Mary helps us know by her own bodily experience something about ourselves, our bodies -- we are all carriers and deliverers of God, gathering and dispersing God beyond, between and within us. God can arrive in the story of your own body. This is the power of the story at Christmas; nothing is impossible with God.

For the Word will be made flesh and dwells among us and we behold this glory come to be among us, full of grace and truth.

On this last Sunday in Advent, remember that God will make us a house, but it will be a house of the spirit, without walls and without borders, but filled with the possibility of new life. In this story, God gives us plenty of assurance against our fears and our failings, our emptiness and even our fullness… "Do Not be Afraid!"

Rumi, the poet and mystic, invites us to join in the dance of the Spirit in his poetry. Here is a poem to be read at Advent because it gives wonderful instructions of how we might live in expectancy of the Spirit.

"There is a community of the spirit.

Join it, and feel the delight

Of walking on the noisy street,

And being the noise.

Close both eyes

To see with the other eye.

Open your hands

If you want to be held.

Sit down in this circle.

Quit acting like a wolf

And feel the shepherd's love filling you.

Be empty of worrying,

Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in this prison when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear thinking.

Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always widening rings of being.

There's a strange frenzy in my head,

Of birds flying, each particle circulating on its own.

Is the one I love everywhere?"

May God who is love come to you today.

Be Not Afraid!