Gospel reflection for Dec. 20, Fourth Sunday of Advent

As king, David united the peoples of Israel and Judah into one nation and secured the city of Jerusalem, known also as the City of David, as its capital. Consolidation of power and the securing of the borders of the country were among his greatest achievements. As with any king, David made alliances with his neighbors and, of course, he built for himself a palace.

Up to that time the Ark of the Covenant, which was fashioned a few hundred years earlier by Moses in the desert, still resided in a tent, though within the city limits of Jerusalem. David desired to honor the Lord and to build a Temple for the Ark. While at first it seemed the right thing to do, through the prophet Nathan, the Lord rejected David’s plan, leaving that to his son and successor, Solomon.

There are many reasons for the Lord not to want the temple. On one hand David, though his heart was steadfast for the Lord, was a warrior king. In coming to the throne, consolidating his power and subduing the enemies of Israel he had much blood on his hands. It would be reasonable to note that the rejection of the idea of a Temple followed a similar sense of why God had also initially rejected the development of kingship in Israel: it fosters a misplaced focus among the people.

The emergence of kingship in Israel indicated a rejection of God-as-king. Instead of relying upon the Lord through the prophets and judges sent by God to protect and save them, they instead wanted a king to protect and lead them. When the people asked Samuel for a king to rule over them their idea of kingship was like that of the people around them. Those kings stood as mediators between the people and the gods, and indeed were often thought of as gods themselves. Reluctantly and with warning as to the consequences of their desire, God granted them a king.

David, and then Solomon after him, gradually brought the religious practices and laws under their domain instead of the priests, those who were ordained by the Lord. Through the prophets Lord resists this consolidation of power.

The Lord wandered with their ancestors in the wilderness. He resided in a tent even as they settled in the land, as they developed the kingship, and built cities, fortresses, and palaces. Now David desired to build a temple.

With the idea of building a Temple the Lord is again being rejected. A temple, though a majestic and worthy building, will isolate the Ark of the Covenant, making the presence of the Lord distant from his people. As a tent-dweller, the Lord was a nomad and lived among his people. In a Temple the Lord will be apart from and away from the very people he has covenanted. A temple stands atop a hill, with restricted access, and with God accessible to the high priest alone.

Through the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin all of this is undone. The Lord is expressing his desire to leave the Temple and to dwell again among his people. This time, however, the Lord will dwell neither in an ark of acacia wood, in a tent fashioned from animal skins, or a majestic stone and marble temple. Instead the Lord now intends to live among his people and to become one of them through the mystery of the Incarnation.

At the time of Jesus the Temple was an empty shell as the Ark of the Covenant had long ago disappeared. While they believed that the Lord still resided with them even without the ark, much of the awe that surrounded it was gone.

Now Mary stands before the world as the Ark of the New Covenant carrying the Lord, and bringing him into the world. Jesus Christ lived among the people, not seeking their adoration and to be worshipped with incense and the sacrifice of animals and grains, but instead to heed his message, to love God and to love our neighbor as our selves.

The desire of the Lord to lead his people, thwarted by their own desires to keep him at a distance and to simply follow their own whims, now becomes the miracle of the Incarnation – God with his people.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.