The ark of the covenant was a container which held the tablets of the Law. The design was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. A tent was to hold the ark in its inner most space – the holy of holies, in other words, the most holy place. As the Israelites wandered through the desert they would take down the tent and re-erect it when they arrived at their next destination. The tent holding the arc had a symbolic value, it was seen as the dwelling place of God, the house of God.
By the time of David, the people had settled in the Promised Land. The first reading for today’s liturgy recalls David’s desire to build a permanent structure to house the ark. The time is not right however and the Lord instructs him to stop.
Through Nathan the prophet, the Lord reminds David that He is the One who will determine the time and place of its building. He reminds David that He is the One who has been with Israel all this time and He is the One who has made her great. He is the One who will continue to dwell with her, protect her and provide for her.
He also promises that after David “rests with his ancestors,” He will raise up an heir for him saying, “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.”
Now in the immediate context, that heir was seen as Solomon; yet his kingdom did not last and upon his death was broken in two. The promise was to be fulfilled much later in terms of worldly measurement. The King will come whose Kingdom has no end for His Kingdom is the Kingdom of God. Jesus is this King and it is His birth we prepare to celebrate tonight and tomorrow.
The Gospel passage announces the dawn of salvation as it recalls the Annunciation to Mary and her acceptance of her pivotal role in salvation history. She is invited to become the new ark of the covenant in her body.
God’s dwelling among mankind comes in a mysterious and intimate way. The Son of God will take flesh in the womb of Mary. He will make his dwelling among men in her and through her be brought into the world as man. Gabriel, messenger of God, invites Mary to take on this responsibility. She cannot comprehend how this will happen. The Holy Spirit will overshadow her. This image may harken back to the Tent of Dwelling when God’s presence there was seen in the cloud by day and the pilar of fire by night. He will dwell in her as her Son and will develop and grow within her. The Word will become flesh within her. Her “yes” echoes through the ages that the day of salvation has dawned, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, tomorrow is Christmas. As we make our final preparations, we are invited to look to these celebrations as a reminder, a memorial of God’s intimate love.
He comes to us, as one of us. His home is no longer to be seen as being built of brick and mortar but of human flesh.
He will be born among us, born of a mother. He will reveal to us the magnitude of His love. He will show us the Way – the way to love, the way to live.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103