There is a story of a poor fisherman, his wife, and a talking fish. One day the fisherman finds the talking fish and the wife insists on having her husband ask the fish to grant them a wish, whereupon the wife asks for a nice house instead of their hut. The fish grants the wish. As the story progresses the wife asks for grander dwellings, and at each request the sea gets more violent. The wife’s final wish is to be lord of the sun and moon, at which point the couple is returned to their poor hut. The point of the story is that the poor couple had all they needed in their simple life, and that the desire for greater dwellings led to the loss of their spirit. The readings for today’s liturgy provide us with a similar lesson.
In the first reading we find King David pledging to build God a magnificent dwelling for himself. After all, David had built a glorious palace for himself while God’s presence in the Ark of the Covenant continued to remain in a simple tent. The desire seems just on David’s part, but God does not want David to build the Temple. God was content to have his presence remain in the simple dwelling of the tent. Eventually David’s son, Solomon, would build the great Temple of Jerusalem, only to have king after king defile the presence of God therein with the worship of false idols and the various injustices allowed to exist throughout the kingdom of Israel.
God’s desire to dwell within the lowliest of things finds its way into the Gospel text for today. The angel Gabriel announces God’s intention to have Mary be the mother of Jesus the Lord. Mary was not from the upper classes; she lived in Nazareth of Galilee, one of the poorest areas of the northern regions of Judea. And yet God chose her to have the Lord Jesus reside within her and to enter human existence through her womb. Just as God preferred the humble tent of the desert for his presence to dwell among the people of Israel, so God preferred the lowly handmaiden of Nazareth to be the God bearer.
The readings point us to the real point of the Advent and Christmas seasons: God neither desires nor prefers the grand buildings built by human beings for his dwelling, even though the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is housed in such places. It is God’s preference to dwell within the heart and soul of each human being he has created. All of us have been chosen to be God bearers and to bring God’s presence into the world through our words and deeds – deeds of justice and love. The buildings we create are fine enough, but just as the Temple of Jerusalem has been destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed once again, so our buildings bear the same fate. Buildings do not have an eternal destiny; human beings do. We must build a suitable dwelling for God within our own hearts and souls in order for Christmas to mean anything at all.
Martin Sheen played the lead role in a movie called The Fourth Wise Man. Sheen’s character is the fabled fourth wise man who was to accompany the others to bring additional gifts to the Christ child – gifts of three precious jewels. The man gets separated from the others and lost along the way. He desperately searches for the Lord Jesus over many years in order to bring him these jewels. However, over the years he comes across people in need who require his assistance: a sick child, a slave under harsh conditions and separated from his family, and a widow in dire need. The man uses the jewels to save these people from their plights, and he wanders the streets of Jerusalem penniless and heartbroken that he was unable to give these gifts to the Lord Jesus.
The final scene has the wise man sitting along the side of a road in Jerusalem, and Jesus walks by carrying the cross to Calvary. Jesus stops to talk with the wise man, who apologizes for not having brought him the jewels. Jesus replies, “For as often as you did it to one of these least ones, you did it to me.” We ended the liturgical year with that line from the final judgment of Matthew 25, and so it becomes the central message of Advent and Christmas. We make a fitting dwelling for God by caring for the least among us. We make the best preparation for the coming of Jesus by deeds of justice and love.
As we make ready for and celebrate together the coming of the Lord Jesus, let us ask for the grace we need to make our lives a fitting dwelling for him. “Let us pray as Advent draws to a close for the faith that opens our lives to the Spirit of God. Father, all powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jude Huntz is chancery chief of staff and director of the Human Rights Office for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
Daily Scripture Readings
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here. http://www.usccb.org
Monday, December 19
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25a
Psalms 71:3-4a, 5-6ab, 16-17
Tuesday, December 20
Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
Wednesday, December 21
Song of Solomon 2:8-14 or
Psalms 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21
Thursday, December 22
1 Samuel 1:24-28
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd
Friday, December 23
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24
Psalms 25:4-5ab, 8-9, 10, 14
Saturday, December 24
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Psalms 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29
Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Sunday December 25
(Mass during the Day)
Psalms 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/
Click on the “Readings” tab at the top of the page.