Today's first reading, from Second Book of Samuel, is one that should put us all in our place. King David has been doing very well. He had conquered all his enemies, he built himself a nice house (probably with a swimming pool), and was feeling rather pleased and happy with himself, to the degree that he even began to feel a bit guilty.
So David goes and has a few words with Nathan the prophet. He would be like a spiritual director. He tells Nathan, effectively, "Here I am, living in a nice, fancy house, and poor, old God is stuck in a humble tent." That would be the Ark of the Covenant, or in contemporary terms, the Tabernacle in the Church.
So David, to appease his guilt, comes up with the idea of building a house for God so that both he and God will have a house. Cool, says Nathan. But that night, God speaks to Nathan thus—basically saying, "Who does David think he is to build me a house to live in?" In another translation of this reading, God says, "I have never lived in a house, but I've always led a wondrous life in a tent."
God is indignant, basically protesting. "Don't lock up in a house. I go with my people. Wherever they wander, I go too." God is saying, "I am the one who takes care of you, not the other way around. I will build you a house, a place of security. I will protect you. I will give you rest."
Now, given our contemporary reality, that is a message of great comfort for us today. We live in a violent and scary world. Scientists talk of our era as in danger of being the world's sixth greatest extinction. Over fifty percent of our wildlife has disappeared since the 1970s, and our flying insect population has plunged by three-quarters in the last 25 years. Global nuclear arsenals are being expanded at a cost of one trillion dollars a decade.
Understandably, people are afraid. But this time of global darkness is the very time that we must remember the reading from Samuel today. God is in charge. Our security is to be found in God, who is with us and wanders with us, simply incapable of leaving us. God is loose, not tied up, not in a house. God is here, with us, wandering with us wherever we go. Knowing that, believing that, in this time of great fear and uncertainty, we must not be afraid.
In today's Gospel from Luke, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, inviting her to say yes, yes to new life, yes to new possibilities. And Mary didn't really get it initially and was hesitant and unsure. How can this be possible? How can this possibly be, given her reality? Like us, Mary was afraid. But Gabriel responds, "Do not be afraid"—words which are repeated 366 times in the Hebrew Bible.
The message to Mary, like the one we read about in Samuel, is that God's in charge. It's okay. God's in charge, always offering the miracle of new life to us when in the face of all improbability, we say yes to the spirit of God. The spirit who, according to the Book of Wisdom, wanders the streets for those whose hearts are open so that she might make her home in them.
And Mary, her heart now open and faith-filled, responds to the angel, "Be it done unto me according to thy word." Indeed, may it be done unto us according to God's word. May our hearts, like Mary's, be open to the new birthing that this holy time of Advent, no matter how dark it is. May we know that God provides for us, walks with us, wonders with us, and waits to fill us with new hope and possibilities. And may we, too, like Mary, be expectant of the new birthing.