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4 Advent - Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:26-38

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

In the time warp of on-line worship, we are recording today's service before last week's council meeting, so I do not yet know how it turned out.

I expect we will discuss whether or not to go ahead with plans to gather outdoors for worship on Christmas Eve.

In addition to watching the weather, we will also be keeping an eye on the numbers of Covid cases and the ebb and flow of official orders and advisories.

We might worship outdoors in person together next Thursday, or we might not—the latest round in the long, tiresome debate about how to navigate a pandemic when life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness all seem to be at odds with each other.

Somebody, if not everybody, will be unhappy with whatever decision we make, and you

are always welcome to complain to me or about me or both.

I assume that you will do so respectfully; I ask that you also keep in mind Paul's directive

from last week: give thanks in all circumstances.

Give thanks for the unique gifts of this unusual year, including the suspension of in-

person worship and our time of exile from this sanctuary.

Thank God for this new crash course in a very old truth we so often forget.

If it helps you to fold your fingers and sing the song, go ahead:

The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.

Church is not closed, only the structure is.

Which God was ready for three thousand years ago.

King David was appalled to realize that he lived in a palace while God had only a tent.

He shared his plans to build a new sanctuary with the prophet Nathan, who nodded in agreement before nodding off to sleep.

God stopped this well intentioned foolishness immediately.

God turned the tables with some clever wordplay, a spin on the word house.

Instead of a house of cedar, think House of Tudor.

Instead of David building a building, God would build a family, a line, a legacy.

Luke still remembers and honors this conversation a thousand years later, introducing a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David.

Instead of a street address, God chose a name.

Instead of locating in a building, God moves into a family.

The presence of God shifts from house to household, from a place to a face.

History vindicated God's choice.

When the people didn't accept this, David's son raised taxes and built the temple.

The Babylonians came in and destroyed it.

God's people were hauled back to Babylon and exiled there for two pandemics.

They learned to worship differently, though of course return and rebuilding remained a priority, because God's people have always suffered from what church wits like

to call an "edifice complex."

So the temple kept getting rebuilt and ruined like a tower of toy bricks in a nursery.

But no army had the power to destroy God's promise.

The angel Gabriel did not get sent to a construction site.

He was sent to Mary.

Now a girl, who would not be allowed inside the temple, becomes the holy of holies.

Instead of a gilded room, God moves into an empty womb.

Instead of staying in heaven, God downsizes into human.

The church is not a building...the church is a people, because the church follows Jesus, who makes his home in a body, not a building.

That is the shift that Saint Paul points out to the church in Corinth.

Now y'all are the body of Christ, and individually members of it, he tells them.

Now God's presence in the world is not just one person, but a united people.

Now the church—you, me, us, not the architecture—is the house of God.

Now we are the ones entrusted with birthing Christ into the world.

Ronald Rolheiser explains:

Our task too is to give birth to Christ.

Mary is the paradigm for doing that.

From her we get the pattern: Let the word of God take root and make you pregnant; gestate that by giving it the nourishing sustenance of your own life; submit to the pain that is demanded for it to be born to the outside; then spend years coaxing it from infancy to adulthood; and finally, during and after all of this, do some pondering, accept the pain of

not understanding and of letting go.

Christmas isn’t automatic, it can’t be taken for granted.

It began with Mary, but each of us is asked to make our own contribution to giving flesh to faith in the world.

When we refrain from gathering, we are protecting God's house.

When we suspend in-person worship, it is because you are too valuable, too crucial, too important to God's presence and mission in the world to risk losing you.

And whenever we return, it will be because we need you, because you are too valuable, too crucial, too important to God's presence and activity in our own lives to risk losing you.

Until then, dear church, keep your doors closed and your hearts open, because you are the

next chapter in God's salvation story.

You are the continuation of Christmas.

You are the good news that God lives in our world.

Your body is God's abode.

God's house is your heart...and head and hands and feet and voice and daily life.

God's place is your face.

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