Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
You may have read my frequent statement in our News of the Week —a thing that has been going around church social media– “The building is closed; the church is open.” This is where we are, where we find ourselves. We may be upset that our church building is closed, but a church building more than most other places is a giant petri dish that will spread this virus. To gather in our normal way is be inside a building with a whole bunch of people, generally close to each other (hugging during the peace), sharing air, in particular sharing air while singing, with almost no air exchanges—it’s a problem. I know we all know this – but human nature being what it is, we all miss being together – I certainly do – and it helps me make it through if I am regularly reminded of the very good reason that we cannot be gathered in person right now.
Perhaps then for this present time, it is a tad ironic that we have the readings we have today. The Old Testament reading from 2 Samuel gives the background as to the story underlying the house of David. David has conquered all his enemies and no longer wanders in a wilderness. He now has a home in the world, a sturdy and mighty one. And he feels that in order to honor the God who has been his Lord, that surely the ark of the Lord, the conveyor of God’s presence, should be in a home worthy of the divine. God. Even Nathan the prophet implicitly agrees! And yet, God puts a hold on all of this. God tells Nathan to pass on to David: did I ask you to build me a home? After all this while that my ark has traveled in a tent? I need no house of cedar, says God.
What do we draw from this story? Surely that God is not a thing/ person or entity that can be contained, or needs to be. Even if God were something that could be contained in a building, that’s not something that God is looking for. (The building is closed, the church is open.) This is not a condemnation of churches, as houses of worship. However, God is clear that what is important is for us to not assume that we know what God needs. God does not NEED a building. It seems that God’s desire is to be knit into our lives, to be part of our every breath, every thought. Just as God explained to King David, God doesn’t need a cedar building or even a tent; God turns the question on its head. Instead, God is looking to be contained in each of us. We are each a building for God. See, the building is closed, the church is open.
Now, this sounds great, well, kind of great…, however, before we all become panic-stricken that if we as individual persons are each a building for God, then now is the time to get out the Swiffer duster and vacuum cleaner, that somehow we have to get our ducks in a row for God— Before you are panic-stricken, please, PLEASE remember that God’s choices throughout the Bible as to who is worthy of relationship with God have very little to do with good pious behavior, and much more to do with willingness to engage with God and God’s actions in the
And so when we think of sinless people, there is a short list. Of course, we think of Jesus (as we should), but there is also a subset of people who will think of Mary. This is particularly common in the world of Roman Catholics, but also the Orthodox tradition as well. After all, Mary didn’t “know a man”, and ever since the Fall in Genesis, that seems to be the sin that matters most to some. In contrast to the Catholics, Protestants more emphasize that what is special about Mary is her ordinariness and that it is her agreement with God’s proposition that makes her superordinary. But maybe these are actually the same thing, maybe Mary is otherwise ordinary, and she puts God’s request before her own desires, superordinary. Maybe the sin of not listening to God is the sin which really, really matters. Maybe, just maybe, being pure in heart actually means being available to God. Just maybe this is the same thing—living with intention— listening for what God would have you do. Sinless is not so much what we don’t do, but instead it is always, or at least often, keeping God on the mind. God is not a second thought, but God is our best thought.
We are here preparing our hearts and minds for Christmas as we do every Advent. And it is just around the corner. For those of you who have not been in stores and malls, I say “GOOD!” Yet still, tonight we will green the church in anticipation. We are ordinary folk with conflicting desires, but despite the world, we too want to participate with the Divine, just as Mary did. We want to have God and the gift of the Christ Child as our best thought, giving light to others, and being manifest in us this day and every day. We rejoice in the Incarnation, and we can rejoice at participating in incarnation that we too are called to, called to be the light in the darkness.