You might be wondering why we have a reading today about King David wanting to build a house for God (a temple – that his son Solomon later did build), and God telling him through the prophet Nathan that a house was not required. What does that have to do with the Advent theme, or today’s gospel of the annunciation to Mary? The answer lies in the last verse of that passage from 2 Samuel 7, where God says to David, I will make you a house, that is, You will be the house where I live. King David and his lineage are to be a living house, a dwelling place in themselves, for God. God dwells in people not in buildings.
We’ve been spending a lot of time and energy this year on our building revitalization project. For some of us it consumed many, many hours as we emptied the church, storing or dispersing its contents, and as we got into more and more details about everything from the height of the new entrance to the colour of the kitchen cabinets. It’s a project we have to do, if we want the building to stand and serve the community for another century. But we have to be clear: it’s there to serve our mission in the community; it’s not an end in itself.
God dwells in people not in buildings. And it’s how we use our sacred buildings that makes them holy. Some of us took part this week in a presentation by Alison Falby, the priest of All Saints Church and Community Centre. She showed slides of the interior of All Saints, which is a beautiful red and yellow brick church built in 1874. To serve the needs of those without homes or adequate income, the usual church furnishings have been cleared aside and instead of pews you see mats for people to sleep on during the day, and tables where food is served, and chairs set out for small groups to meet around, and resources for folks to use. And it’s very clear that God is in that place because of the unconditional love that is shown and shared. People who come to find safety and support there feel its holiness – not just because it’s a church with stained glass windows, but because it’s a house of love.
God said to King David, “Don’t build me a house: YOU are to be the house.” And that’s our calling: to be living houses of God’s love, living temples where the Spirit dwells in us and activates us. And Mary is the figure who exemplifies that for us today.
When Mary said Yes to God’s message sent by Gabriel, she was assenting to be the physical bearer of the child of God into the world. Her pregnant body was a holy temple. In Orthodox traditions she is called theotokos – the bearer of God. What holds the Holy One is not a shrine or altar or building, but Mary’s very self.
Now of course we can get distracted and bogged down by theological tangles about her virginity, the historical versus mythological elements of the story, the whys and wherefores of a miraculous conception and birth, but that’s to miss the point. The point is, Mary bore Jesus into the world, and he for us is God-in-our-midst; Emmanuel. Mary didn’t just carry him in her womb like a passive vessel, she also laboured and gave birth to him, raised him, taught him, mothered him in all ways. And her trust, her courage, her love made that possible. She was a strong house of love in her very body.
Embodying God and God’s love is what we are each created to do and be. We are each to be living houses of love.
I think it was St John of the Cross who said, “My occupation? Love. It’s all I do.” Love not as an emotion or romantic idea, but as a way of being in everything, all the time.
Who are the living, breathing houses of love, the embodiments of God’s love, that you know? Who are those who know how to be fully and compassionately present to another’s need? Who are those who know how to walk with courage and endurance the long road of Christ’s way that leads to peace and justice? Who are those who know how to give and receive, forgive and be forgiven, without ego getting in the way?
And where are those places that such love is put into action? I would say All Saints Sherbourne Street is one. And I pray that our renewed St Aidan’s will be another, known not for its physical features as a church building on Queen Street, but for what we do there, what mission and ministry are served there. I hope we’re known as a house of love – welcoming, inclusive, actively involved in meeting the pain of the world with the love of Christ.
It’s relatively easy to build a building compared to the lifelong task of being a house of love. But that’s our calling, and Christ is our architect and pattern, project manager and bricklayer. At the risk of over-working this metaphor terribly, I’d say that we’re all building projects under construction, and that’s OK, because the end purpose is love, and all the way there is learning how to say Yes to God's love in our lives.