We begin this last Sunday of Advent with a prayerful spirit of availability. Though Christmas Day is exactly one week from today, there is still time for us to experience our stillness, our darkness and our desire to be full. We pray with the coming of fulfilled promises. We pray with the conditions of our lives which keep us longing. We can pray with false-fullness, the hastening away from Bethlehem’s simplicity.
Our First Reading for this liturgy, from Second Samuel, pictures David sitting pretty in his palatial house of cedar. The Lord has helped him defeat his enemies and the ark of God at last, has taken its place in Jerusalem. It has been carried into its present resting place accompanied by much dancing and musical celebration.
We hear a conversation between David and Nathan, the prophet. David is reflecting on his being in a nice house and the holy presence of the Lord is outside in a tent.
Nathan has a dream after telling David to go ahead with his building project. The dream becomes a prophesy which plays on the concept of “house”.
The Lord tells Nathan to remind David that he, David, was taken from the pastures to guide the flock of Israel. David will be famous above all kings and Israel will be safe from her enemies.
While David was thinking about a material building, the Lord promises further, a physical, bodily dynasty “house”. This house will live on into history and bring forth a new and ever-present, presence of the Holy in the physical body of the Messiah. This is a most important prophesy. The Messiah will be of royal lineage with the same mission to guide and protect God’s people. The “house” then is not a material building, but a family having a history and future.
The Gospel is the familiar narrative of how this Holy Presence begins to take shape within the body of a young woman. The tent of her womb becomes the new Holy of Holies and the ancient prophesies are being fulfilled.
In the middle of our Advent wreaths is a hole, an empty area which receives the full light of all four candles this day. The lights announce the vacancy and promise completion which is to come.
We do not enjoy the empty. Nature abhors a vacuum. The winds which blow are rushing into areas of low air pressure. Water flows naturally into cracks, pockets, holes. Lack of food creates a sense of hunger which is not always a terrible thing, but we don’t always enjoy that feeling. We do not like the empty feelings which come from separation or loss.
There is a hole in the human experience of everything. At times we might believe that we have total fullness in a relationship or possession. It does not take long for us to find the holes though and we can be tempted to search elsewhere. All of human experiences are actually invitations to embrace the reality and the hole is part of that real relationship or possession. We long in everything for the hole to be full and always and “right now”. In truth then, “not having” is a “having”. As the candles of the Advent wreath highlight the central emptiness of the wreath, Christ’s coming into the human circle shows how empty life is if we think this human life is all there is, or it is all about our gratification. Jesus speaks directly to how we are to find the holy in the hole.
One of the great gifts to me at Christmas time is how I love receiving surprising gifts. One of the surprises I remember was the Christmas Eve sharing of gifts in a Jesuit community of which I was the Rector. We had drawn names and as Superior, I was handing out the gifts retrieved from under the tree. As I handed out the last present, it became clear to all in the community that I hadn’t received any box, package, or anything. It was a bit awkward to say the least. The community members felt sad, but not enough to give back to their superior their gift. It was a great Christmas present; it really was. To receive nothing is to receive much. I really mean that. I received much attention and comfort from my brothers and that lasts longer than handkerchiefs. That was sure a surprise and an introduction to a deeper sense of Advent and Christmas.
Mary received a gift in her Advent waiting. Her empty womb was available to receive. Her “dance card” was not filled and God’s interruption of whatever her daily agenda was, continued how God’s ways embrace the little, the unimportant and the empty. In her life and body, the empty was something; it was available.
The addict runs from the longing, only to find more emptiness. It just does seem that those who can stay faithful to the human experiences of not having it all, do receive a wisdom and a grateful sense of all that lies beyond, but is hinted at by the holes of our humanity.
The stable awaits; the many inns are overflowing. We wait with nothing in hand except our hands - reaching, but not grabbing. We will do some longing these days I hope and perhaps receive a holy experience of the “holey”.
“The virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and she will call him Emanuel.” Is. 7, 14
p.s. Just so you don’t feel so bad for my not receiving a gift that one Christmas twenty years ago, here’s the rest of the story. . . The man who had my name came to my office and humbly told me that his sense of Christmas did not include giving gifts to each other within a community of men who vowed poverty. He went on to say that he would rather live as a gift to the community and so he was - and so was I blessed that Christmas morning.
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