God Pitches a Tent by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 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." But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" And the angel said to her in reply, "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God." Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
King David was very excited. He had conceived a plan to do something great for God and the thought of it gave him joy. After all, God had strengthened him, guided him and protected him through many victorious battles. David had consequently established a visible, stable kingdom for God's holy people. He had constructed a royal house from which he could rule his vast kingdom. Now he planned to build a house for God.
David decided to consult the prophet Nathan. After saying "yes" to the idea by the light of his own wisdom, Nathan returned the next day with a big "No" from God. Why? Two main reasons are given. First, in all his years of caring for His chosen people, God never lived in a temple. He lived as they lived, in a tent. He lived among the people. In this tent, God's presence was often mysterious and terrifying to the Israelites, but it was real. God was saying He did not want His presence confined to a single house. His people needed to know He was there in their midst.
Secondly, rather than David building a house for the Lord, the Lord had planned a house for David. "The Lord also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever." Even Moses and Joshua were not followed by their sons. God's favor for His people was becoming a promise of eternal favor.
Today, Christians see these two reasons for God's "No" to David as prophecies proclaiming how He would say "Yes" in a radical new way in the fullness of time. God so wanted to dwell among His people that He sent his only Son, who crashed through time and space and took on our human flesh. St. John described the Incarnation as God pitching his tent among us (the more familiar translation of Jn 1:14 is "dwelt among us"). From that day forward, the whole world would know He was in their midst. They would never be able to question His care, concern and desire to dwell among them.
Jesus fulfilled the prophecy about David's dynasty as well. True, the house of David fell apart. His grandsons divided the house and it eventually collapsed. But God, through the king, was pointing to something much bigger than David or anyone else could imagine. Once again, God was using a historical even to point to the Historical Event, the Incarnation of the Son.
The angel Gabriel confirmed the fulfillment of God's promise to David when he announced the Event with these words: "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 (Lk 1:32-33)." God's ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts.
God brings about this marvelous kingdom not with the help of swords, armies and battles, but by means of a lowly maidservant. If we are looking for a physical tent in our contemplation of God's plan, we look first to the Virgin and marvel at this magnificent dwelling place. Mary conceived Jesus in her heart through faith before she conceived Him in her womb. She believed that God would be faithful to his promises. In spite of her fears and concerns, she said "Yes" to God and watched Him fulfill 2,000 years of prophecy by overshadowing her with the Holy Spirit. As Christians everywhere prepare to celebrate Christmas, may we strive to imitate Mary's radical "yes" by clearing a place for Christ to pitch His tent in our hearts, and so help bring Him to the world.
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