Sunday, December 18, 2005

Decorating the House for Christmas

(Fourth Sunday of Advent-Year B;This homily was given 18 December, 2005, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.)

Is your house decorated for Christmas? There is something exciting about unpacking those old familiar decorations: the lights, the crèche scene, setting up the Christmas tree.

You may have read in the news recently about that gentleman in Cranston, who decorated the front of his house this year with giant pictures of Paris Hilton. When asked what the display had to do with Christmas, he answered, “Absolutely nothing.” No argument there.

Just last week I asked one of the kids from the school next door why we decorate our houses, why we place lights in all the windows. She said, “Because we’re getting ready for Jesus, the Light of the world.”

Now, I am sure not everyone who places a light in their window is thinking that; but it is a beautiful—and theologically correct—way to look at this season. When we decorate our houses, filling them with light, do we really believe that we are getting them ready for God?

In the first reading this morning, King David is resting comfortably in his house, and it dawns on him that the Ark of the Covenant—the presence of God, which accompanied the people on their journey through the dessert—has no house at all. He says to Nathan the Prophet:

Here I am living in a house of cedar,
while the ark of God dwells in a tent.
—2 Samuel 7:2

God is out in the cold, so David wants to build a house for God, a temple so that the people can worship Him as they should. It is a very noble gesture. Yet, the response he receives from God is quite different than what he was expecting. God says to him:
“Should you build me a house to dwell in?”
(2 Samuel 7:5).

He reminds David that he wouldn’t even be the king if not for the blessings given to him so freely, so graciously. It was nice of David to consider, but in the end the Lord simply says, “No, thank you.”

In fact, He has something else in mind all along. Nathan the Prophet says to David:

The Lord also reveals to you that He will establish a house for you. . .
–2 Samuel 7:11

David is not going to build anything; but God is going to build David a house. The house that he promises to David is not really a house at all, but a dynasty. The same word that David was using to refer to a temple is used by God to refer to the kingship of David, and of his descendants after him.

God goes on to say:

Your house and your kingdom
shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand forever.
—2 Samuel 7:16

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the magnitude of that promise. There will be a descendant of the house of David ruling over the people of Israel forever. That is God’s idea of a house. It was one of the greatest promises ever given to the people of Israel. They cherished it. The Messiah himself—the people understood—was to come from the house of David.

But in the days that followed, that promise, and that house, seemed to fall apart. David himself was to fail miserably at times. His son Solomon would expose the house of David, the royal throne, to the worship of foreign gods. Some of the kings after him would do much, much worse.

There were good and faithful kings, but it was more often the case that the house of David was weakened by idolatry, apostasy, and even exile. Kings were dragged away from the land of Israel, held captive in foreign nations. Until eventually there was no king at all.

Israel became a nation occupied by the Romans; the kings of old were now nothing more than simple commoners. The lights had gone out in the house of David. So much—it would seem—for the promises of God.

That is the context for the event that happens in the Gospel this morning. In a few short words St. Luke reveals the God who once again inspires hope in a nation that might have all but given up. He says:

The angel Gabriel was sent from God . . .
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David.
—Luke 1:26-27

Gabriel enters quite unexpectedly into the house of a poor, simple, holy woman named Mary and says to her:

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
—Luke 1:31-33

God never forgets His promises. The lights may have gone out in David’s house, but God was about to bring in the Light of the World. At the darkest moment for the chosen people, God would shine a light into their lives that would change their nation and the rest of this world forever. That is what we are getting ready to celebrate in a few short days.

So, if that’s the case, then we can ask again that same question we began with: Is your house decorated for Christmas? Are we ready to welcome the Light of the World into our houses, into our families and into our lives, this Christmas?

It will do us no good whatsoever if our houses are decorated for Christmas and we have not made room for the Son of God. Jesus Christ comes into this world to turn the hearts of all people back to God. That is why we celebrate. The coming of Christ should change us, it should move us to deepen our relationship with God.

Our hearts, our lives, our families, should be like houses that are filled with light, announcing the presence of Christ—the Light of the world—to all those who long for that Light. That little girl I mentioned earlier, from Our Lady of Mercy School, she understood that. She’s not waiting for Paris Hilton this year. She is waiting for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Light of the world. Who are we waiting for, and Whom are we decorating for, this Christmas?