Saturday, December 17, 2011

4th Sunday of Advent (B)
The Rest Of A Guest

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-11,16; Psalm 88:2-5,27,29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Picture: cc darcy1b

Sisters and brothers, the holiday season is often a time for receiving guests into our homes. Some may drop by for only a brief visit. They come for tea, or lunch, or a dinner party. Others may linger. They stay for the night. Or even for a few days. But, however long the stay, or whatever its purpose, isn’t it true that we don’t always enjoy such visits? While there are many guests whom we love to entertain, isn’t there usually also a select few whom we sometimes wish would never show up at our door? Ever? Their arrival produces in us a tensing of the muscles, and a gritting of the teeth. Their leaving, a sigh of relief. The reasons for this are many. Some people may be too demanding. Others rude or inconsiderate. But perhaps the most difficult kind of guests to handle are those who insist on role reversal.

Consciously or not, these visitors simply refuse to accept the role of a guest. They refuse to sit back quietly and to let you play host. They try their best to help you entertain them. It’s as though they were determined to replace you as host. And, in the process, they often end up simply getting in the way. Even messing up your carefully made plans. You may, for example, tell them not to bring food because you’ve hired a caterer. But they bring a huge portion anyway. As a result, your family ends up eating leftovers for the rest of the week.

Yes, it’s not easy to be a good guest. It requires a certain self-discipline. A consideration for the other. An ability to allow oneself to be entertained by someone else. A willingness to surrender oneself into the hands of another. Trusting that the other both knows and wants what’s best for us. It demands that we somehow let go of control over our own lives, if only for a few hours. This can be uncomfortable. Even scary. Perhaps this is why some of us always prefer to play host than to be guests. And yet, when we insist on doing this, when we refuse ever to let ourselves be guests, we end up shortchanging not just ourselves, but also those we may wish to entertain. After all, how can one be a good host, who has forgotten what it feels like to be a guest?

And this is true not only in social circles, but also in the spiritual life as well. Especially in this beautiful season of Advent, many of us are trying our best to make space in our hearts and our lives for the God-Who-Comes. We are preparing to play host. We are trying to be as hospitable as we can. As individuals, we may be giving more time to prayer and reflection. As a parish, we are filling our Magi Board with resolutions, our Advent Tree with holy desires. We’ve set up Advent wreaths and Christmas cribs. As an Archdiocese, some of us are meeting for shared prayer using the Advent booklet. All this is good. However, even as we continue to engage in all these worthwhile activities, we need also to remember that the One we are preparing to welcome is not just a guest, but also, and most of all, our Host.

This too is what our readings help us to appreciate today. Consider King David in the first reading. For many years, he has been very busy fighting battles. He has expended much time and energy in building and consolidating his political power. But now, we’re told that he has finally settled into his house. Now, he enjoys rest from all the enemies surrounding him. And, now that his own house is secure and at peace, David wishes to make a special place in it for God. He wants to build a Temple. At first glance, this desire seems like a truly holy and commendable one. By this, David shows that he is not an ungrateful man. Even when things are going well for him, he does not forget God. Perhaps this is why the prophet Nathan initially supports David’s proposal.

And yet, quite surprisingly, God brings the king’s plans to an abrupt halt. Why? Is God trying to be difficult? A wet blanket? A kill-joy? We get a better sense of the possible reasons for God’s action when we reflect more deeply on God’s response to David. God reminds David that, amid all the battles that David has fought, through all the many adventures that David has undergone, even though it may seem like David had been doing all the work, it was really God who had been the main Actor. It is God who has been building David a royal house. It is God who has been making David’s reign secure. Although David may feel that he should make a space for God in his kingdom by building a Temple, God reminds David that it is actually God who is making a special space for David and his descendants among God’s people. God is the Host. David is but the guest. And, if David is the guest, then his first order of business is not so much to do something new for God, as it is to allow himself to rest in the space that God is making for him. Not so much to build a house for God, as it is first to remain in the house that God is building for him. And then, with heart filled with gratitude, to sing the praises of God, the divine house-builder. Just as we did, in our response to the psalm just now: I will sing forever of your love, O Lord.

No, sisters and brothers, God is not a kill-joy. In preventing David from proceeding with his Temple-construction plans, God is really helping David to resist the tendency toward role reversal. God is helping David to remember who is the Host and who is the guest. And this is important, because it is only by playing the role assigned to him, it is only by being a good guest, that David can remain in touch with the true source of his power. Isn’t this what is meant in the second reading, where we are told to give glory to him who is able to give us the strength to live the Good News of Jesus Christ?

And isn’t this also the experience of Mary in the gospel? When we hear Mary call herself the handmaid of the Lord, it is tempting for us to imagine a servant who is always busy. Someone who never has time to rest. A woman who only ever plays host, and is never a guest. After all, immediately after saying yes to the angel, doesn’t Mary set out on a journey to serve her pregnant cousin Elizabeth? In Luke’s gospel, the Visitation follows closely after the Annunciation. But that is precisely the point, isn’t it? The Visitation comes after the Annunciation. Not before. And what is crucial to the Annunciation is not so much what Mary does, as it is what God wishes to do in and through her. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. Isn’t this what being a handmaid means? Being willing first to accept and to appreciate, to submit and to surrender to, God’s action in one’s life. To be willing first to be a guest of the Divine Host. To remain in the house of God’s will for us. Let what you have said be done to me.

Isn’t this the crucial lesson that our readings are teaching us on this fourth and final Sunday of Advent? The same lesson that David learned, and that Mary knew so well. In a world where we are often judged only by how we perform and by what we produce, our readings remind us that, when it comes to God, we only have the strength to act when we have first learned to rest. We can only use our hands to build God’s house, when we have first been moved to raise our voices to sing God’s praises. We can only be good hosts to others, when we have first learned to be good guests of the Lord.

Sisters and brothers, how has God been building you a house? How good a guest are you today?


  1. To surrender is the most difficult and to lose control to someone else is one’s greatest fear. Those with motor neuron dysfunction would be the first to testify. It imposes on you against your will.
    Instead of doing, can I just be? Thrust into the busyness of life, respite may be found just by simply idling and letting the world go by. Learning to appreciate and enjoying the simple truths.
    Like all events, I must learn to rest in the Lord this Advent. Much like the baby Jesus who is dependent on Mary and Joseph during his infancy years, nothing is impossible with God if we but trust and obey. The key to my weakness is to be reminded constantly and be aware of His presence.

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  3. I am not a good guest, and guilty of the role reversal you mentioned. I feel that I should help out the host so that he/she is less busy and better able to enjoy the company of the guests.

    We have to let God into our lives, and decluttering our hearts to make room for God. But Christmas is such a hectic time, buying presents, food and decorating the house. It becomes very commercial and has very little to do with the spiritual.

    I should put aside the busy buying and spending, to make time for Christ. It is Christmas after all.


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