“ I want to go home!” This is the moan of a small child feeling insecure and tired during a long trip. “I want to go home.” This is the hope-filled, silent heart-wish of Abraham as he left behind a nomadic, pagan people to follow a God who promised him land and descendents more numerous than the stars. “I want to go home!” This is the hopeless plea of an estimated 2 million homeless people in our world. “I want to go home!” This is the angry outburst of the ancient Hebrew people, wandering in the desert for forty years. “I want to go home.” This is the discouraged whisper of a soldier fighting a war in a foreign country. “I want to go home.” This is the broken-hearted prayer of the ancient Israelites in exile in Babylon. “I want to go home.” This is the loud cry of an elderly person transitioning into a skilled nursing care facility. “I want to go home!” This is the outcry of Jesus as he hung on the cross, dying. In the first reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear King David’s desire to build a home for God. David knew what it was to long for home. He knew the low social status and wanderings of a shepherd. He knew what it was to flee his enemies. He also knew the security and power of a king’s throne. You can almost see the edge of God’s mouth curl up into a wry smile, and hear the ironic, teasing tone in God’s voice when God replies: “David, are you going to build me a house? ! ?” David wasn’t doing God any favors. Such a construction effort would be inadequate to thank God for choosing him from among the sheepfolds, anointing him leader of a people, and establishing peace and rest from all his enemies. David’s search for at home-ness didn’t begin with his own desires nor were they realized by his efforts. It was God’s desires, God’s action. In the book God, Christ and Us, Fr. Herbert McCabe writes:
God does not respond to his world. He does not adjust his reaction to suit good people or bad. You do not have to be good before God will love you; you do not have to try to be good before God will forgive you. . . If you are good, it is because God’s love has already made you so. . . if you want to be forgiven, that is because God is forgiving you. You do not have to do anything or pay anything, in exchange for God’s love.
The surprising truth revealed in both the first reading and the gospel is that our desire to create a place for God in our world was planted in our hearts by God as a reflection of God’s own desire to be at home with us. This is made clear in God’s promise to David to establish a home and a legacy that will last—a promise perfected in Jesus. Scripture does not reveal God to be a Divine Watchmaker who created an ordered, balanced universe and then sat back to let it run its course. To the contrary, God enters into intimate covenantal relationship with humanity, a relationship Scripture often imaged as marriage. Entering into covenantal, marriage-like relationship with humanity can be a messy affair, but our God knows this. God intentionally chose the messy life and the world of Mary of Nazareth in Galilee as an example to us of how God desires to be part of our modern lives. Elizabeth Johnson gives us some perspective on what Mary’s life and world would have been like in her book Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints. Nazareth in Galilee was an impoverished, rural village, and its residents struggled for survival after paying in taxes and tributes to the Roman Empire and to King Herod of over half of what they grew and raised. Mary, and her betrothed Joseph, a tekton or carpenter, would likely have been on the second lowest rung of the social ladder of the time. More than likely Mary would have been alive for the riots, raids, enslavement and burning of Sepphoris, a village only four miles from Nazareth. Perhaps her family and friends might have known some of the 2000 people who were crucified. It is into such a world that the angel Gabriel came, announcing the fulfillment of God’s promise to David. God’s desire for a home was not in a palace with the safety and comfort of a king, but alongside suffering humanity and within a young, impoverished virgin’s womb. God’s own humility is revealed in humble places; the power of God’s transforming love hidden within such humility can only be recognized and received by a heart humbled by life’s burdens and cares. It is into the hurting, confusing, messy areas of our lives that God seeks an entrance so that we can become signs of hope for all to see. God wants to dwell in the parts of our relationships, work and lives where we feel vulnerable and strain to feel our worth. God wants to make a home in the parts of our hearts and lives that remain closed off, neglected and hidden. “For nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). The question we must ask ourselves, then, is this: when God knocks and humbly asks to make our hearts a home, will we give our “Fiat,” our “Yes!” like Mary did? As we move through this fourth week of Advent, let us pray for the grace to see ourselves as God sees us and to let our lives individually and communally become a home to the healing, transforming power of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus.
—Sister Ann Marie Wainright
Read or reread the weekly reflections for this year’s Advent journey of expectation and preparation.