God at Home Among Us

Fourth Sunday of Advent

I have been a resident of Waynesboro now for five and a half years. The longest I lived anywhere before was 6 years in Rocky Mount VA in Franklin County, south of Roanoke, west of Smith Mountain Lake. I am soon coming upon a milestone of some importance. After leaving my parents’ home years ago, the longest I lived anywhere was those 6 years in Rocky Mount VA. Come June 2012, my time here in Waynesboro will surpass that previous record. Last month, I received a letter from the chair of the Priest Personnel Committee to remind me that my 6 year term as pastor was about to end, … that if I wanted to stay, I just had to let them know. Don’t worry. I said I wanted to stay … unless you want to talk me out of it. But you and I know Waynesboro will not be my last address. Still we enjoy our time together anyway. We went through a parish discernment and visioning process most of last year, and I said I would be here to see the project through if it were up to me. I still have much to tell you about where we are in that process, but I’ll have to get back to you on that after the new year.

Except maybe those who were born and raised here, most of us know what it’s like to pack up and move to a new home. Some of us have done it a few times. But we eventually look forward to settling down, and never having to memorize another new mailing address or phone number again. When God had finally secured peace for Israel, a loosely formed people under the successful leadership of a charismatic general named David, there was cause and opportunity to set down roots, to raise their families and build a stable life. It was a logical development of owning real estate in the midst of other established peoples, having a defined territory with borders to defend, having a king, a royal family, and a highly successful army, having flocks to tend, vineyards to harvest, orchards and crops to raise. So when David informed Nathan the prophet he would build a house for God, he was suggesting the end of a familiar way of life. It meant all the wandering and traveling would end. But to those unaccustomed to building towns and cities, this was completely new. There is a sense of freedom built into the nomadic lifestyle. And with God living in a temporary shelter, a tent, like themselves, Israel was convinced God was accessible, available and familiar with their experience. Building a house had potential to change their relationship. It would hide God behind ritual and mystery. There would be a gap between them and God, no journey, no hardships, no daily problems to share. But God thought otherwise. It would take another generation and another king to bring it about. God altered David’s plan and built for him instead a royal house that would endure.  This house would firmly establish David’s name in the consciousness of Israel.  It would assure him descendants for generations to come.  It would be a house of privilege and promise, of prestige and power, favored by God in a most unique way.  David wanted to honor God. Instead, God would bring honor to David, and would not be outdone in generosity.

We see the culmination of that favor and promise in the designation of an heir who would occupy David’s royal throne, the Son of the Most High, who would rule over the house of Jacob, and of whose kingdom there will be no end. All of Israel’s hopes hinged on the answer of one lowly maiden to the angel who announced the birth of God’s Son. God had made a promise to David that his house would endure forever, and God fulfilled that promise. God wished to further bestow great favor on David’s house by becoming part of the fulfillment of the promise.

We mark this fourth and final week of Advent, thinking of God’s choice to build a house among us, to build a life with us and to share our story. Many among us have lived somewhere else before moving to this area, coming perhaps from another city, another state, another part of the country. We pitched our tent, bought a home, even built a house among a new people. We embraced a new neighborhood. We shared the story of a new community. We have bought insurance, we pay local taxes, we send our children to local schools, we support local service organizations – the police, fire and rescue squad, the school board, little league, the local paper, the farmer’s market, the hospital, local theatre groups, the community college, and local artists. We joined a church nearby, have come to Mass, and have given to the weekly collection. We have volunteered on leadership councils, the Christian formation program, and liturgical ministries. We served on local neighborhood committees, in the parish and in the community. We shopped at the local stores, the cleaners in town, the florist next door, the hardware store and the bookstore. We have bought lemonade from the neighbor kids, popcorn and cookies from the scouts, candy from the school band and Christmas trees from the athletic boosters. We have paid kids from other churches to wash our cars. We planted trees and flowers at the local park. We have voted in local elections. We have gotten involved in the life of the community. We share each other’s achievements, we mourn each other’s dead, we meet each other at barbecues and clam bakes. At some point in our lives and for different reasons, we came to this area, and decided to stay a while. We made friends with new neighbors and got involved in new pursuits. In effect, we have built new lives. We may not ever be considered “locals” for many years, but we have come to belong to those we consider our friends and neighbors.

I still meet people who refer to other places as “home” even after being in this area longer than me. They are from Richmond and Northern Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia, California, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia. Sometimes I have asked, “So when will this place be home? How much more do you need to invest of your life in this community before you call it home? How long are you staying here if you intend still to go home somewhere else?” I usually don’t get an answer right away.

Today we mark God’s decision to build a house among us, to lay down roots, to share our lives and our story, to be at home among us. Born a weak, helpless child of a lowly maiden in a place which even now is steeped in turmoil and strife, God upholds his commitment made generations ago to David, to Israel, and through them to you and me and all the human race. God chooses to be among us this Christmas and every day. Mary said “yes” which gained for us a savior. God has come to stay. Will we let him in? How do we intend to welcome God into our homes and into our lives today and every day of the year?