When I look at travel magazines, I’m always amazed at the different types of homes around the world. There are yurts in Kazakhstan, brightly painted stucco houses in Latin America, high-rise apartment buildings in large cities on nearly every continent.
In one of the lectionary readings for this Sunday, there’s a conversation between King David of ancient Israel and the prophet Nathan about a dwelling. Not a home for people, but a house for God.
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.” But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went…Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. [from 2 Samuel 7]
David, in his new palace of cedar, wants to build God a palace—a temple—in gratitude. But God tells the prophet to say this: I don’t need a house.
God prefers more temporary, less substantial dwelling places. A tent when the people of Israel wandered in the desert. A mobile home to follow David around.
God is nomadic, migratory. Wherever God’s people are, God is.
Eventually, David’s son Solomon built a temple. Even though God’s spirit inhabited that temple, God was never confined there.
In the story we retell every Advent and Christmas, God came to live in the womb of a young woman, in the person of a carpenter’s son (the continuation of David’s “house” or lineage) whose own peripatetic life illustrated God’s vagabond nature.
That was then. But what about now? Where does God live now?
God remains forever the nomad, following people wherever we go.
God lives in the Fifth Avenue apartment and on the sidewalk where a homeless man sleeps on a heating grate to stay warm. God dwells in the refugee camp and in the slums, in the mud hut and in the 4-bedroom house in the ‘burbs. God inhabits the hospital and nursing home, resides where there is peace and where there is no peace, sits at the table teaming with food and at the one where there’s an empty place this Christmas.
Build God a house? There is no point to it. Yes, God is a wanderer, but God also has a home already. It is with you.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2011