“The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say, ‘Let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob.”
I had a glimpse of this vision last Monday night at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration hosted at Temple Emanuel. Many peoples did come – Jew, Indigenous, Sikh, Muslim, Humanist, Buddhist, Hindu, Baha’i, and Christian. It was glorious! For one night out of the year, this vision of God comes to fruition here in Grand Rapids when we gather to give thanks and praise to god (however it is that we name God). So different from the violence that our nation has experienced this past year, this past week, targeted against democracy, against Jews, against Blacks, against the LGBTQ community, against, against, against. So foreign to the vision of God that calls us as people of faith to “beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.” To transform our weapons of violence into instruments of peace.
Heading to Aquinas College as a first-year student, my parents and I drove down Fulton Street from Cascade and saw this huge edifice up on the hill. “Wow!” my mother exclaimed, “What do you think that is?” “I have no idea,” I responded. Little did I know that 7 years later I would know all about that edifice on the hill as I would enter its doors as a candidate in 1988. Little did I know on that day in 1988 all the changes that had been and were yet in store for that edifice, that house, that motherhouse. Three years before I entered, the chapel had been renovated – and many peoples came; the Academy would be closed within the year that I entered, and renovations took place of old novitiate spaces into apartments. Dining rooms would be relocated to make way for a spirituality center – and many peoples came; and most recently the move from there to here as we await the final sale and renovation of our old motherhouse for which we pray many peoples will come again.
For the last 9 months, we’ve been living into our new house, our new Marywood, our new motherhouse. It is fitting that this first Sunday of Advent in our new motherhouse, the readings invite us into a reflection about houses, specifically God’s house, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that God may instruct us in the Lord’s ways, and we may walk in God’s paths.”
This summer we reflected on the idea that God’s mission has a church, a community, an Order, has us. We are about God’s mission. If we are about God’s mission, then this house is God’s house, and at its center is this chapel where we come to be instructed in the ways of the Lord in Word and in Sacrament.
In this new year of our liturgical life, Advent invites us to do some house preparation and renovation - to reflect on what our house will be like – both literally and figuratively – if we are about the mission of God. Will many peoples come again?
We are well aware of all the work that has been and continues to be done for this house to be ready to welcome the whole community, our Sisters and Associates, who long to stream toward it. Advent also invites us to put in order the home of our hearts, that is the house that is the temple of the Holy Spirit, so that we’ll be ready for the coming of Christ, not only at Christmas but every day of our lives.
In his book Mere Christianity, CS Lewis wrote, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He’s getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?); you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently [God] starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is [God] up to? The explanation is that [God] is building quite a different house than the one you thought of – throwing up a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but God is building a palace where he intends to come and live.” The Advent season invites us to remodel our lives so that they can become a house of the Lord, a place of light and truth, of justice and peace, where God lives in our midst. That is what the Incarnation that we await is all about.
In today’s second reading, Paul is explicit in how we should go about this remodeling. “Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,” he says. In other words, let us build a house. Let us bring down the walls of pettiness, neglect, prejudice, and ignorance. Let us open wide the doors of our hearts and minds so that isolation, anger, and fear may escape. Let us instead lay a foundation of love and peace, gratitude and thanksgiving. Let us put in new windows that allow the light of Christ to shine out from within and in from without. Let us construct a house with few walls but plenty of support beams, beams of prayer and patience, faith and forgiveness, dreams and visions. Let us build a house this Advent – a temple of the Holy Spirit – that proclaims that we belong to Jesus the Christ.
The challenge of such remodeling, however, is to make sure that what is rebuilt in our house is not just simple decoration that will be put away for another year after the Christmas season. The task we are about is for more than just Advent. It is the process of a lifetime. If we are faithful to the process, then we can be assured that when Christ does come – sooner or later – it will not be as a thief in the night but as the host of our house, inviting us to gather around the table where we will glimpse the vision of God where we and many others are streaming toward him, rejoicing as we go that we might be instructed in God’s ways and walk in his light, that the world may know the peace that he has promised, the peace that he gives, the peace that he is, the peace we are called to be.
Note, Sr. Megan McElroy preached this First Sunday of Advent homily in Chapel of the Word at Marywood in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Nov. 27, 2022. Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24: 37-44