Every year at this time I am caught off guard, and it happened again yesterday. For the last several weeks we have been reading lessons, which frankly can terrify me:
“But the bridegroom replied, “Truly I tell you, I do now know you.”
“You that are accursed depart from me, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
“… for you do not know when the master of the house will come … [and] he may find you asleep…. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
“And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to [John the Baptist], and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
These gospel lessons, beginning toward the end of the Pentecost cycle are not all that fun to ponder. After all, who among us wants to be reminded week after week that it is quite possible to be denied, especially if we have denied; to be left out, when we have left others out; to fall asleep when we have been charged to keep alert.
But suddenly everything has changed, and I am caught off guard. It happened once again yesterday.
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
For the last several weeks we have been pondering lessons which point us to the coming of Christ at the end of time to be judge and ruler of all. Suddenly, suddenly our focus shifts and we are invited to ponder the coming of Christ, not in glory at the end of time, but in lowliness in time as the babe of Bethlehem. We are invited to ponder Jesus, not as judge, but as messiah; not as ruler, but as savior and we do that today by pondering the familiar story of Mary’s strange encounter with Gabriel; a story which we remember here at the monastery three times each day.
The angel of the Lord announced unto Mary: And she conceived by the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you….
We remember this encounter because it both fulfills and begins a whole sequence of events reaching back to one garden and forward to another, from one tree to another: Eden to Gethsemane; from the tree of life to the wood of the cross and beyond. Mary’s ‘yes’ spans time and space and opened her to become the temple of the Lord that David longed to build. In spite of David’s desire to build, it was in Mary that God chose to dwell, for the building blocks of the temple are not wood and stone and gold, but flesh and blood and a heart full of love. And that is precisely what God found in Mary.
By saying ‘yes’ to God and becoming the Mother of the Saviour, Mary made room for God not only in her womb, but in her heart. Because of this act of great love she became, as Orthodox tradition calls her, More Spacious than the Heavens for “He whom not even the universe could contain was contained within the womb of a virgin, making her more spacious than the Heavens.”
David longed to build a temple fit for God to reside and in the heart of an unwed teenager, God found that temple not because she was a master builder in wood and stone but because she was a master builder in love.
Like that day two thousand years ago, God longs for a temple in which to reside. He longs for a temple, not of stone and light, no matter how glorious, but of flesh and blood and a heart of full of love. Like Mary, you are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in you – for when you say ‘yes’ to God you open yourself to God and God’s glory abides in you; when you say ‘yes’ to God, the Word is made flesh and dwells among us.
Although everyone loves a baby, Christmas is not actually about babies. Christmas is about saying ‘yes’ to God. Christmas is about making space for God. Christmas is about becoming God’s temple. Christmas is about becoming, like Mary, ‘more spacious than the heavens.’ Christmas is about opening the temple of your heart to the love, and life and light of God.
We have just a week to get ready for Christmas and there is a lot to do: there are presents to buy; trees to decorate; puddings and cakes and cookies to make; gifts to wrap; parties to attend; cards to send. But the most important thing to do is that there is a ‘yes’ to say and a temple to build.
Only you can say ‘yes’ to God and only you can open your heart to God. Only you can build that temple in your heart where the one whom the heavens cannot contain may dwell.
Two thousand years ago, Gabriel appeared to Mary looking for a heart of love where God might dwell, and all creation waited with baited breath for her ‘yes’. Today the sound of angel wings stir the air and Gabriel is once again looking for someone whose heart is full of love. Won’t you this Christmas open your heart to God and say ‘yes’ so that the Word might once more become flesh and dwell among us? Won’t you say ‘yes’ to God and offer him the temple of your heart? Won’t you say ‘yes’ to God and make space in your heart so that like Mary’s heart yours too will be more spacious than the heavens? Won’t you say ‘yes’ to Gabriel so that God’s light and life and love might dwell in you?
Won’t you say ‘yes’ to God? Gabriel and all creation are waiting with baited breath for your answer.
article by Br. James Koester