After the earlyyyyyyyyy morning 7am Mass a young woman asked if she could have my homily. I had already preached last night, and had no other Masses today, so I gave it to her. She was very interested in the shekinah, the cloud of God’s glory, that I discussed in the homily. It’s pasted below:
Our God is a fantastic teacher. He teaches His children with patience. He makes things known to us gradually; and over time, we understand more complex concepts that build upon simpler things.
I think the readings today invite us to ponder the image of a cloud.
His physical manifestation to Moses came in the form of a cloud. When Moses went up to receive the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s presence covered the mountain for seven days. The people understood that something important was taking place within that cloud.
And when the Israelites moved around in the desert, the glory of the Lord accompanied them in the form of a cloud.
The cloud would hover over the Ark of the Covenant, the golden box that held the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. If the Lord wanted to move the clan by night – the cloud appeared as a pillar of fire to light their way.
If the Lord wanted to stay in one place for a time, the cloud would simply rest on the tent that contained the Ark. The Israelites understood well. They were content to dwell in a given place until the Lord urged them to move elsewhere.
After King David had built a palace, he pondered the appropriateness of living in his beautiful home compared to the simple tent that the Lord’s ark was kept in. That’s what the first reading today is all about:
David had a good heart; he wanted the Lord’s ark to be more comfortable than himself. He wanted the Lord to dwell in a building of more magnificence, more beauty.
But God tells David not to worry – if He wants a beautiful palace, He will have one built. Rather, he teaches David that what He really wants is to fix a kingdom for His people Israel. He wants them forever to have a line of kings to care for the people.
He reminds David that he was the most unlikely king. David was a simple, young shepherd – content to care for the flock. Protecting the sheep from predators, and ensuring they had sufficient grazing pastures and fresh water to drink. God chose David because of his humility and because of his protective, loving care of those entrusted to him. And that’s the kind of kingdom that God fixes through David’s successors for all time. A firm kingdom of justice and peace and care.
David’s wish of a great temple for God was eventually fulfilled through Solomon, his son. The temple was built to house the glory of the Lord. And God was pleased with Solomon’s work. When the temple was dedicated, the cloud of God’s presence entered it. The cloud was so dense and thick that the priests couldn’t even see. They left the inner sanctuary.
It’s important for us to realize that God made the Temple glorious not through cedar or gold or incense or burnt offerings. He made it glorious because the cloud of his presence rested inside it. He made it sacred and important because He chose to dwell within it.
You see, the cloud of the Lord’s glory, shekinah, in Hebrew, is the same whether it rests on a mountain, or over a tent in the desert, or inside the Holy of Holies in the Temple. It was a physical reassurance to the people of the Lord’s favor with them; and his choice to be powerfully present in their midst.
But in today’s Gospel, there is a special shift in how God interacts with his chosen ones. When Mary asks Gabriel, “how can this be?” The Lord’s messenger tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
The cloud that interacted with the Israelites touched mountains, the desert floor, the canvas of a tent, and even the gold and acacia wood of the Temple. But it never touched a person.
The shekinah cloud stayed for a time in this place or that, but it never made a permanent home anywhere.
You see, the cloud that overshadowed Mary was not temporary, it changed her forever. The cloud wasn’t merely a representation of God’s presence; it was God Himself, the Holy Spirit, who rested upon her.
After moving about for 2,000 years, the eternal and most glorious home for God was found in a gracious, humble virgin named Mary. The shekinah cloud would never again need to lead the people or reassure them of God’s closeness. He would take flesh through Mary and walk among us as one of our own.
He would teach us and heal us and care for us and love us.
Above all else, he would save us by laying down his life for his friends.
During these last days of Advent, these days of preparation, I urge you to spend some time meditating on the entrance of Jesus into our world.
A great way to do that would be to read the eleventh chapter of Isaiah and ponder the mystery of God-made-man, Emmanuel.