The German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, would love our first reading of today, which seems to align with his strange attempt at theologizing, found in his article on “Building, Dwelling, Thinking.” Did you notice the play on words in that reading about building and dwelling in a house? David was thinking of building a house for the Lord to dwell. The Lord, in turn, through the prophet Nathan, is telling David that He Himself will build a house for David and his progeny to dwell forever. David had the thought to build a house for the Lord to dwell. What kind of house? A house of cedar and precious stones. In his thinking, the tent of meeting was too fragile a dwelling for the ark of the Lord. He didn’t realize that equally fragile are houses of stone and cedar. Twice, the temple of Jerusalem—work of man’s hands—was destroyed, and none is standing presently. Only God can build a house that lasts forever. That was his promise to David.
The actual words used by Prophet Nathan are: “The Lord Himself will make you a House.” God isn’t going to gather stone, wood and mortar to build; rather, as the maker par excellence, He plans to transform David into an enduring House. How did God do this? The ark where His glory dwelt and the symbol of the old covenant got lost or hidden (II Mac 2:4-8), marking the end of that wantonly broken covenant. Jeremiah, who hid the ark, said that it would reappear when God gathers His people together again and shows them His mercy.
The reappearance of the ark did occur a generation later when the words of the prophets became fulfilled that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son whose name will be Emmanuel” (Is 7:14). The word Emmanuel is a Hebrew expression with root in the preposition “immanu-El,” meaning “with us-Lord” or God-with-us. And those are the words we hear from the angel today as he tells this Virgin of Promise, “...the Lord is with you.” In Mary, God has completed the house into which He promised to build David. In her, rather than in a house of stone or cedar, God found a dwelling. In her, the lost ark reappeared—in a word, it took flesh. As the Word of God, namely Jesus, became flesh, so, the ark that bore the Word preceded Him in taking flesh. This is why Mary is called the Ark of the New Covenant, which first took flesh in order to give flesh to God’s Word. At her Visitation to Elizabeth, Mary would reiterate the words of Jeremiah in 2 Maccabees 2:16 that, “God has remembered His mercy” (Lk 1:54-55). But it was Zachariah who captured the essence of the house that God promised to build for David when he said: “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us, in the house of David His servant,” and continuing, said: “through the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high has come to visit us.”
Mary was no dullard. She asked the angel a scientific question: “How can this be since I do not know man?” Long before modern biology and skeptics put a query to the Virgin Birth, Mary had asked the scientific “How?” We see in Mary a beautiful tinge of toughness; for though she believed, she still questioned. The angel answers that, in her case, conception and birth will result without regard to human love, but not without regard to Divine Love. To solidify her faith and abate any fears, the angel referred her to another sign showing that nothing is impossible to God: Elizabeth’s pregnancy happened without regard to age as Mary’s own pregnancy would happen without regard to man. Yet, Joseph would be a veritable instrument to counter any shocker. In public appearance, the child would be thought of and regarded as the son of Joseph; thus the reputation of the Virgin was conserved. According to Sheen, if Mary had become a Mother without a spouse, it would have exposed the mystery of Christ’s birth to ridicule, and would become a scandal to the weak. Be prepared to bear Him in your heart and produce fruits of love, joy and peace.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo