Print Version December 22nd, 1999
Are you like me? Very well-protected against God. It’s not that I don’t want God to be close to me … it all happens beneath the threshold of want or desire. My body seems to have a frozen memory of some hurt or other that it won’t willingly repeat. So that though I say I long for God, long for his touch, long for her whisper—and I think I really do yearn for it—just let God get too close and God gets a black eye.
Are you like me? Oh usually my defense is far more civilised than fisticuffs. My preferred approach is to keep busy. It doesn’t actually have to be productive activity—in fact it works much better if it is useless—busy-work or even TV—and you don’t even have to enjoy it. There’s a certain kick to be gotten out of bearing an unpleasant task nobly while secretly congratulating yourself at keeping God so successfully at arms length.
Maybe you are not like me at all. But at least I have David on my side. David has perfected the art of keeping God in his place. David even hopes to build a special place to put God, a safe place, a beautiful cage of a place—a church.
David has been busy with war and politics—perfect narcotics for the soul—but now peace has fallen upon him, peace and prosperity. All that distracting rape and pillage is done with … David is in a fine new palace with time on his hands. And God is getting close. The empty chambers echo with her whispers. And every now and again … his fleeting touch. But the big problem is the tent—the tabernacle—out in the back where God has wandered for centuries with the people. God has pitched his tent among the people but David lives in a fine new palace, with fine new walls, and a fine new roof.
How can you live in comfort when your God lives out in the cold? How can you be settled when your God has no place to lay his head? How can you rest easy when God is only at home with a homeless people? David is in serious danger of letting God get to him. So he decides to bring God indoors, wants to give God a palace, wants to make God into a king in his own image.
But God is not a king. God is the wandering heart of a wandering people. Only at home with those who have no home. God has pitched tent with the people. David may settle easily but God can’t. God can’t live in a palace until all the people do. God is going to be out in the cold as long as the least of God’s people are out in the cold. God is under canvas because some of God’s people are under newspapers.
Who knows what David has been so afraid to keep God at bay. But even his best efforts fail. God sneaks in under his guard. And speaks the words that David must have longed to hear even as he was braced against them: “David, I have been with you wherever you went. You don’t need to take care of me. I am taking care of you. I have taken care of you and I will.” David is moved to tears, drops his guard and drops his plans.
I’ve found that God is very good at getting in under my guard too. Especially here in this place. I sit, on guard against rumours of angels, but while I’m looking one way—there! it’s done. Jesus is by my side, inside my reach, standing against me. My arm around his waist. Warm. And before I can stop myself my head is against his side. And as the tears well up his hand is in my hair and he whispers, “Hush!” … “Hush…”
I wonder if Gabriel ever got tired of his spiel. “Hail X, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” This is probably heresy of the highest water but I can’t resist it. How many times in the history of the human race did that poor archangel draw close to some candidate for annunciation never to get beneath their guard? Hundreds? Thousands? My guess is millions upon millions. God says to the angel, “find me a place.” And I have a hunch that Gabriel approached every single person to have lived with that strange offer of presence before Mary finally accepted it. 999,999 times out of a million it went like this: “Hail …” Black Eye! Maybe sometimes Gabe got as far as “Hail Charlie” or “Hail Sallie” before the defenses kicked in. For a very, very few the angel maybe finished the sentence. But in my imagination Mary was the only one undefended enough to hear the proposal and, before she can stop herself, say yes. I imagine Gabriel surprised as hell! Offering each new word gingerly expecting yet another fist in the face—which does not come. Far from the palaces, far from the temples, here in a tiny village where nothing ever happens, something happens for the first time in the history of our race. God finds a place, a place outside the palace walls to pitch his tent. To be at last and again the wandering heart of a wandering people.
Does Gabriel smile? Can angels do that? A long retirement to look forward to, feathered feet up, a job well done? Maybe it crosses the angelic mind but not for long. God’s voice speaks, “find me another place.” And Gabriel begins again. Searching for a place now for Mary’s son. Every moment making the greeting, “Hail Josephine,” “Hail Rob.” Full of grace. Highly favoured. Turned down mostly. Angelic eyes black and blue. But looking for any opening. Any gap in the defenses. Any way under the guard. Every day. But in Advent especially. Seeking a home for Mary’s son. On this day, maybe, above all days. Hoping one story will kindle another. The guard will drop. A word be spoken. A nod. A smile. Tears maybe.
Once again a wandering heart un-alone. And who knows what might be accomplished.