4th Sunday of Advent
I can see the yard and about half of Dee’s house from my living room windows. And when I was really sick last March and early April, she set a candle in her back kitchen window. While I could only see it if I was in my bedroom at the very end of my house, with all the lights off and peering out from the farthest edge of the farthest window, she put it there so I could know she was just over there, and that she was praying for me. The light was like a beacon of peace. And it touched me from across our yards.
What does peace feel like?
A few others said,
Warmth, Comfort, Hope, Satisfied—not hungry, but not overfull…
We know that touch is vitally important for us. Place your hand on the back of my neck and I will immediately become calm. If I take your hand when you are anxious, your heart will begin to slow and endorphins release into your blood stream and you become more at ease. It is said that hugs are healing—and there is science behind that, too! Hugs instantly promote the release of Oxytocin, easing depression or anger. A longer hug will stimulate serotonin levels which elevate mood. There’s even evidence that the effects of hugs can strengthen the immune system by stimulating the thymus gland that regulates the production of white blood cells.
Human touch is powerful. But we also experience and understand touch in a variety of ways:
- The coffee cup is hot to the touch
- Her story was really touching
- I’ll just touch up your roots
- The tension in the room was so thick you could touch it (tangible)
- They don’t grasp the gravity of their situation
What is it that makes a thing touchable? How do we understand something as palpable—real—even when it isn’t something solid, something holding mass?
I love that Nathan blesses David’s idea of making a temple for God’s presence to reside (or a symbol of it). David’s thinking was admirable: how can I live in such grandeur when my God, Maker of everything, is relegated to a tent? And Nathan, is certainly one who does hear the voice of God. So, he says, yes! Absolutely! Do all that is in your heart.
But God’s perspective on the matter is different because—God. What I appreciate about this part of the story is that, as a Spiritual Guide to the ruler, Nathan still speaks out of his calling to the position, and he isn’t wrong in his instruction, per se, he just didn’t yet grasp the larger project of God’s redemptive movement. There is no reprimand. God just tells him to give a different message to David. Nathan is present to God, so he hears this new way of understanding the situation and shares the message with the king.
I find this so comforting because, there are many times I preach a message or give spiritual counsel, absolutely out of my calling and long-standing relationship with God, but later discern a different message, a nuanced or expansive view on what I conveyed before. It wasn’t that I was not listening to God, it’s just that I needed a moment—or decade—walking in, present to, God’s presence in order to discern a different way. I know it, by the peace it brings. (that doesn’t mean the telling of it will bring peace to the hearers or my relationship with them, but I know it in my bones, my soul—spirit-to-Spirit).
So God tells Nathan to tell David: I cannot be entirely present in this space as long as there is war. While David was the only one in our scriptures described as a man after God’s own heart—so obvious his love for God—the reality is, his reign was all about war. And, war used to his advantage (evidenced in his orchestrating the death of Uriah, the husband of the woman David seduced and took for himself).
God could not fully be present to the community of Israel, represented on the land of Jerusalem, until there was peace. Tangible peace. The kind of peace that can be known in the depths of ones bones, the soul; the kind of peace that is felt throughout the very the earth. Righteousness, right-ness, will fall like rain and the earth will split open with shoots of right-ness.
And David didn’t really grasp that a space of his making couldn’t ever be adequate to the task.
So when God decides that now is the time to be present to the creation and to the people, in a tangible way, God chooses a space no one would ever consider (though attested by countless): a 13-year-old young woman, engaged but not yet married.
The powerful will be deposed, the weakest among us will be restored to the fullness of God’s creative imagination. Even those with proud thoughts will be disbursed. The hungry filled—with good things!—and the rich, left with nothing. (I wonder if this is instructive to us as we consider hosting a Food Bank)
God told David through Nathan, that God has always been present to the people. God said, Look, I am recreating a land in which you will be planted, a space for you from which you will split open the earth with righteousness—right-ness.
And there, you will know peace.
But this space is not like you imagined, this kin-dom and your role as leader isn’t what you were told to expect. This reign will be brought about not with prolific armies and the most advanced weaponry. This kin-dom will not be one surrounded on all sides by walls and garrisons, entered only with the correct password—or the utterances of fastidiously specific doctrines.
This kin-dom without end will begin as all life does: in the most vulnerable creature, a young female of barely child-bearing age—made more vulnerable to being utterly abandoned, as not yet actually married, scandalous.
God became tangible – limited the assemblage of bones and skin, blood and sinew, to take the same form we know and experience. And not only did God purposefully choose to become so vulnerable, God started from the first instance: conception, cells dividing and dividing still more, taking form, growing and entirely, utterly dependent on this no-body in whose body God chose—on purpose—to take up residence.
David’s idea of an apt temple?
A grand edifice of choice cedar wood, generously glazed in gold, expertly etched filigree tracing beam and buttress, embellished with the most resplendent of precious stones, swathed in the most exquisite of imported silks and linens. All, that unfettered wealth, and political and military power can afford.
And God said, ummm, no. None of that matters. You did that. Yes, I was with you and helped you. But you had to get it by playing politics and with strategic swordsmanship.
No. This is how I am present, this is what is worthy of my presence, how my glory is best known:
I give myself entirely to the creative life-initiating, becoming, sustaining process of gestation. And pushed unceremoniously onto a floor generously glazed in evidence of excrement, unassuming joists adjoining the edifice of ancient stone, scattered scenes of civilizations’ past strewn above;
then, swathed and swaddled in well-worn wool, wrapped with the tenderest touch
of a new mother.
Rest on every side. Still. Still. Peace so profound one might touch it.
What is it that makes a thing touchable? How do we understand something as palpable—real—even when it isn’t something solid?
We know it’s real because, community. We know it’s real because we are connected by something more than you or me. We feel it, know it, touch it—and each other—because, at our core, the Source of our being takes residence in me, makes a home in you. And it is palpable, real, touchable, only when we:
Stop waging war against one another, when we refrain from being overconcerned about appearance – decking out in outfits esteemed by humans, adorning ourselves with so-called accomplishments, degrees and positions.
It is touchable and real when I say, Here I am. Let it be.
When you affirm: Sing out my soul, the greatness of the lord, my spirit rejoices in God, the one who saves, the one who loves, the one whose name is
Prince of Peace, heir and without limits makes. Everything. All. Right.
How might we be instruments of tangible, touchable peace to ourselves and our community?
- If you are alone, grab a silky shirt or cloth, and wrap it around your hands and imagine the spirit of God soothing, calming your hands. Invite the Spirit to wrap that comforting presence around your arms and then over your shoulders. Lean into the comforting touch of the Spirit around you.
- If you are good at knitting, perhaps find the softest yarn you have and knit a chunky scarf for someone you know who is in isolation. Write a prayer of comfort and love: You touch me with your love in my life. Please wrap this scarf around you and know it was touched by my grateful hands and is hugging you back!