Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt
Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
The story of the Angel coming to Mary is beautiful and it is very familiar to us. The story of King David wanting to build a temple, to be a place of worship where the ark of the covenant would be kept is less familiar. It too is a beautiful story.
May be these stories are given to us to hold together so that we have both a masculine and a feminine reflection on giving birth to God. The more masculine story includes the temptation to build a monument. This story reminds me of the poem by Percy Shelly, Ozymandias. In the desert part of a monument still stands. We might even tell ourselves the building we desire to build is to give glory to God, it is not for our glory! But the prophet Nathan was told to tell King David, there is no need to build a house for God, because wherever the people have been God has been present, albeit in a tent. But the tent means God is not locked down and can be wherever the people are. Nathan goes on to tell king David, the Lord will build you a house. Something much more permanent that your house of Cedar.
Now the people of Israel interpreted this story to be a covenant with David promising his descendants would always sit on the throne of Israel. And the early Christians heard this promise as a sign that Jesus, a descendant of David would be the everlasting king.
But perhaps as we hold this story beside the story of the annunciation, we can hear that God chooses to dwell in the midst of his people wherever they are. And that God has the capacity to build in us a dwelling place for God-self. God can never be locked down to a particular temple or church or Altar.
Mary’s story gives us a wonderful feminine appreciation of God being conceived in Mary. Mary would conceive and bear a child who would be called Jesus, saviour. I love Mary’s initial response, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Mary doesn’t have any notions of grandeur, she sees herself as a servant, ready to serve. That beautiful humility comes through in the song Luke has put on her lips when she hears Elizabeth say the baby in her jumped with joy at the presence of Mary’s unborn child.
For you, Lord, have looked with favour on your lowly servant: From this day all generations will call me blessed.
In the past I have encouraged men and women to model ourselves on Mary and see to the potential we have to become pregnant with God. I wonder whether that image is too foreign for some that it is off putting. After all none of us are equal to the job that Mary had to give birth to Jesus and to raise him. I am not sure that Mary felt up to the job ever. Yet Mary knew what it meant to serve, in that time and culture, that is what women did. Mary willingly gave herself in service to God to bear the child who would be the saviour of humanity. So may be the image which is perhaps more masculine is easier for many to ponder, that of God building a house for us. It is our house, and yet God dwells with us in that place. In our time and place building and refurbishing our homes or setting up our rental are very familiar for male and female alike.
Maybe you are wondering what an earth I am talking about. How can we possible live in a house that God has built for us and how can we know that God dwells in that house with us. The house that I see God has built for each of us has various pillars that form the main structure. The first pillar is the Scriptures, the account of the ongoing dialogue between God and God’s people. We live in the house when we read the Scriptures in such a way that they inform our ongoing dialogue with our Lord.
Another pillar in the house is the people of God. Did you notice that King David told the prophet Nathan his plans to build a house for God? Initially Nathan said, good idea, go for it. But it was through Nathan that God spoke to David. God continues to communicate with his covenant people. When we covenant with God’s people it informs our covenant relationship with God.
Forgiveness is one of the great pillars of the house God builds for us. The Scriptures and the people of God help us to begin to see this pillar. When we experience forgiveness for the things that we have done, we begin to get a sense of this essential structural pillar. Its strength becomes clear when we forgive others. What we experience forgiveness or forgive others we begin to appreciate that the pillar was created by God’s forgiveness of us and humanity as a whole. Our experience of forgiveness, our practice of forgiving and our appreciation of God’s forgiveness all amplify each other, they create a positive loop.
Apart of me wants to fill out the rest of the house for you. Certainly love, service, and prayer are essential components of the house. But may be it is more important for you to sit with the image of the Lord building a house for you that will last for ever. It is a house for you and yet God is present in it. As you live in this house day by day, it becomes a house that your descendants can also rely on. In this house the saviour will be born.
Last week we finished with the Spiritual exercise to imagine yourself in the presence of Jesus, as a child and as an adult. This week I invite you to sit with an image of the house that the Lord has built for you. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to explore the various pillars but wait on Jesus to help you discover parts of the house.
Of course others may prefer to sit in the place of Mary and hear the Angel assure you of God’s favour and that you are to conceive the child of God.