Fourth Saturday of Advent
2 SM 7:1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16
PS 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 AND 29
As Advent draws to a close and we are on the cusp of the beginning of the Christmas season, Campus Ministry would like to thank you for journeying with us through these four weeks. We are grateful to our friends across the university community who have shared their reflections on the meaning of this season in their lives and as we are all drawn together into the mystery of the coming of the Kingdom of God in the Incarnation. We hope these reflections have helped you in your own preparation and conversion of heart and life. All of us in Campus Ministry wish a very merry and sacred Christmas to you, to your loved ones, and to the entire Saint Louis University community.
In today's first reading, David speaks in dismay that God only has a tent while David has a house of cedar, and we can understand that impulse: we want to give God the best to demonstrate our devotion and to signify where our priorities are. Just look at Catholic church art and architecture and see that impulse at work - God is exalted and majestic, so we want to build exalted and majestic edifices to give God the glory more clearly. While David did not end up building a more elaborate dwelling for God, his son Solomon did, and it became one of the architectural marvels of the ancient world (except that he imposed massive taxes and conscripted labor on his people to get it built). Hard to disagree with that impulse to honor God the way we honor our great leaders (palaces, thrones, gold, and so on), except that God inverts this image of the "glory of God" in the coming of Jesus, who looks like what God is actually about (see Colossians 1:15) - Jesus' God is not only the God OF the marginalized and poor, but a God who IS marginalized and poor. Thomas Merton, the great American Trappist monk, wrote about the poor Christ in a reflection on Christmas titled "The Time of the End is the Time of No Room," an allusion to the "no room at the inn" of Luke's nativity story:
"Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and He must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst. For them, there is no escape even in imagination. They cannot identify with the power structure of a crowded humanity which seeks to project itself outward, anywhere, in a centrifugal flight into the void, to get out there where there is no God, no man, no name, no identity, no weight, no self, nothing but the bright, self-directed, perfectly obedient and infinitely expensive machine."
This passage feels (admittedly biased by my love of Merton's writings) at least as relevant today as it was when he wrote it 50 years ago - our news feeds are jammed full of reports of the obliteration of lives in so many places around the world; the rise of violent crimes based on racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, homophobia and transphobia; environmental degradation at home and abroad, particularly afflicting the poor and people of color; and so many other relentless manifestations of assaults on human dignity. The Christ whom we celebrate came as a person of color in a marginalized corner of the Roman empire -quickly to become a refugee in Egypt, poor and threatened by state-sponsored violence. He came not to simply be a better king than Herod or Caesar, but one who overturns the very notion that power is best or only understood from on high. So when God through Nathan rhetorically asks David, "Should you build me a house to live in?" this is not only because God is beyond the need for a palace, but because a palace misrepresents God - it makes God into the king, the emperor, the god that so easily legitimates the self-aggrandizement of earthly kings and powers in the first place. Rather, it is in that tent, in that manger, in that flight to Egypt, that Christ enters and dwells with those who are under threat, just like Him.
Patrick Cousins is the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry.