Scriptures: 2 Samuel 7-16, Psalm 80, Romans 16:25-27, Matthew 1:1-25
We are a pilgrim people, we are the Church of God,
A family of believers, disciples of the Lord.
United in one spirit, ignited by the fire.
Still burning through the ages, still present in our lives.
The people of Israel were pilgrims in the desert, and the ark of God’s presence dwelt in a tent. The Holy Family were pilgrims in Bethlehem, to and from Egypt, to Nazareth and to Jerusalem. We have been pilgrims through this Advent season, and continue to be a pilgrim people. That’s why I chose that song.
In the first reading, there are two meanings to the word "house." David wants to build a house for God, a temple in Jerusalem. God says, I am going to build a house for you. Does he mean a big mansion or condo? No, the Lord is talking about the family which will be the ancestors of Jesus.
A house is not the same as a home. Joseph and Mary did not have a permanent address, but they had a home, because they were a family. Recently, my friends Bill, Karen and Billy needed a place to park the travel trailer which they are now living in so they could qualify for food and heat assistance. And now they have one, because someone acted like the compassionate innkeeper did for Mary and Joseph and let them park on his property. They do not yet have a house, but they do have a home.
David had to change his plans about building a temple for God, he was called by the prophet Nathan to look at his life, to live the 10th Step of the recovery process: "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it." And it was not the first time he had to do it, as we know.
We need to be very aware of how we talk about God’s house today. We use the same word, "church", to describe the building where we gather and to refer to ourselves as a pilgrim people. The Jewish Temple has been destroyed, but the house of David continues in Jesus. Maybe we need to reconsider how we use the word "church" when we talk about ourselves and our buildings. Most Protestant congregations do not call the building where they meet to worship a "church" they call it their "sanctuary." In the southern U.S., people often refer to the building where they worship as the "Church House."
Remember the song I began with. It describes the Church of God as a pilgrim people, a family of believers, and disciples of the Lord. That is how the prayer and teaching of the Catholic Christian community describes who they are.
The key words in the second reading today, a reading which is only one sentence, are "the obedience of faith." Paul is inviting all Disciples of Christ to give glory to God through this obedience.
But what does that mean? I remember clearly the first time I heard the origin of the word obedience in English. It comes from the Latin, "ob audire," which means simply, "to listen to." The key to this listening is to choose who I listen to – since the Voice of God sometimes whispers in my heart while the voices around me and inside my head sometimes shout other things, like "buy that, max out your credit card," "have another drink, you can still drive," or "you need to put them down if you hope to fit in."
Obedience is simply to seek to know God’s will and to follow it. But how do I discern which voice is God’s? The answer is in the 11th Step of the recovery process: "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out."
I chose to read the Gospel for the A cycle today, which also occurs at the vigil Mass for Christmas Eve. It follows the genealogy of Jesus, which tells of his human origins. His family history is like most of ours. It includes sinners and saints, schemers and people of integrity, prostitutes and kings.
God has always worked through imperfect people and situations to bring us life and freedom, to bring us to a spiritual awakening. Their stories remind me of 12th Step, the last step in the recovery process: "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."
But that does not mean that the process is over. It seems that as soon as I think I have reached the end of the process, it begins again with another experience of being powerless. I remember one incident when this happened to me.
I was with Sr. Anna’s mother, who had just turned 80. We had just celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation. She began to get anxious over her situation and I felt powerless to really help. I prayed for help, then wrote some words down for her.
Trust Jesus (who sends just the right message and angels)
I later forgot exactly what I said, and had to call her to find out what I had said so I could use the story at an Advent Day of Recollection. It was then I found out that she had the saying in every room in her house, and since it was a spiritual awakening for her she chose to spread the message of God’s love and truth in her world by giving out copies of these words, a friend had printed for her.
Joseph and Mary had a spiritual awakening – and carried the message. They listened to God’s word through an angel and their dreams. They made a home for Jesus, and provided a place for him in their lives, their prayer and their travels, and so can we.
We are given the promise by all of them that, "Nothing is impossible with God."
I would like to end with the prayer so familiar to anyone in the process of recovery, but I want to use the whole prayer – not just the words most of us know:
God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.