Saturday, December 20, 2008

The New Temple

(4th Sunday of Advent, B)

The first reading we hear today from the second book of Samuel contains two momentous events in the history of the people of God: First, we hear the beginning of the reflection that will lead to the construction of the great Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Second, we hear David the king receive the everlasting, royal covenant from God. These two great moments in the history of salvation help us to understand what God is doing in the human birth of his Son, the annunciation of which we hear in today’s Gospel.

By the time of king David, the people of God had settled down. David had captured Jerusalem and united the people. As the Scripture says, David notices that he lives in a palace, while the Ark of the Covenant—the presence of God for the Israelites—continues to dwell in a tent, as it had when the people were in the desert. So David starts to think that he should build a kind of palace for God, a temple where prayer and sacrifices can be offered. But the word of God that comes back to David through the prophet Nathan is a little ambivalent. God says, “…should you build me a house to dwell in?” As God also says through the prophet Isaiah, “What kind of house can you build for me?” In fact, God turns the reflection around on David, and says that it is God who will build David a house, by which God means that he will establish David’s dynasty in everlasting grace and favor. This is the royal and everlasting covenant.

Now we know from history that the Temple did get built eventually, not by David but by his son Solomon. David, who, as you remember, who made himself a conspirator to murder in order to commit adultery, didn’t turn out to be God’s man for the job. But Solomon was, and he built the great Temple of Jerusalem. It stood for a few hundred years until it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in the year 586 B.C. Two generations later, when the Jews returned from the Exile, the Temple was rebuilt. This Second Temple stood in Jerusalem for another five hundred years until it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D, around the time the gospels were being written.

So what does all this ancient history mean for Christmas, much less for us? A lot, I think. The birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is the fulfillment of God’s promise in the first reading. It is not us who build a house for God, but God who builds a house, a Temple, for us. Think of the very end of the Bible, the two last chapters of the book of Revelation. The New Jerusalem descends from heaven and is joined to the earth. But the narrator notices that this New Jerusalem doesn’t seem to have a Temple. What gives? As Revelation says, God himself and the Lamb are the Temple. So now, as Jesus is born, the new and eternal Temple of God appears. Remember, what is a temple? It’s a place where prayer and sacrifice are offered to God, and in his incarnate life, the Son of God becomes this Temple for the world, offering prayer to the Father on our behalf and becoming on the Cross not only the Temple where sacrifice is offered but the perfect sacrifice itself.

In his Risen Body, Christ continues to do this through the ages. His Risen Body is the Temple where prayer and sacrifice is offered to God. And where is this Risen Body? It is us, brothers and sisters, all of us gathered together by our baptism into Christ’s death and our Holy Communion with his risen Body in this Eucharist. In this we are made into God’s house in the fulfillment of his promise to David. And we become the Temple where sacrifice is offered to God. That means that all the joys and pains, the sufferings and the loves of our lives are consecrated through Christ and offered to God. That’s the good news of Christmas; that by the Word becoming flesh, our humanity is given the opportunity to live in communion with God, such that everything about our lives becomes a consecrated and holy sacrifice, pleasing to God in every way.

No comments: