Lord, I Want to Glorify You
December 22, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Sunday of Advent
Reading I (2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16)
Reading II (Romans 16:25-27)
Gospel (St. Luke 1:26-38)
In the readings today, we hear about the humility of God, the condescension of God. This is something that we oftentimes do not think about simply because when we think about God, we think about His glory; and indeed, Saint Paul even speaks about the glory of God in the second reading. It is incumbent upon us to give God glory, but the greatest glory is given when we see the immeasurable humility of the Lord. When we see what it is that He has done for us, it allows us to give Him even greater glory. If God was just sitting someplace watching over everything, He still would deserve all the glory; but because of what He has done, the glory that we understand that we owe to Him is increased so many times over that we cannot even begin to comprehend it.
So how do we see this humility of God, and, thereby, the glory that we owe to Him? When we look at the first reading, we begin by seeing the fact that David had built himself a nice, fancy palace to live in and the ark of God was dwelling in a tent. Now, again, one could ask, “Where are the priorities?” It was only after David was settled in his palace and after he had done all kinds of other things that he finally came around to questioning whether or not he should build a temple for the Lord. And the Lord intervenes through the prophet Nathan and says, “Did I tell anybody to build Me a temple? From the time that I have appointed judges, have I ever complained that I was dwelling in a tent?” You see the humility of the Lord that He is willing to be in the most humble of circumstances even when those who should be serving Him are making sure that they themselves are taken care of first. The Lord allows that out of His love and out of His mercy.
But we look beyond that because now David in his generosity toward the Lord decides that he wants to build God a house. The Lord rejects that because David had spilled too much blood upon the earth, but turns around and says to David, “I will build a house for you and it will be everlasting.” That God would so appreciate the little bit that a human being is willing to do for Him, that He turns it around, and the very favor that David wanted to do for God, the Lord turns into something which is similar but incomparably greater than what David could ever have imagined! David wanted to build a house of wood and stone with gold and silver and iron and all sorts of other things in it, and God is going to build for David a house that is of persons, not of stones – and, ultimately, one Person. It is important that we look very carefully at that reading because the Lord says, “I will raise up for you an heir” – singular. There were about fifty kings in Israel that came after David, starting, of course, with Solomon, David’s son, and then going after that. But the reading does not talk about how many heirs there will be; it talks about one.
When we look at history, we know that in the house of David, after the Babylonian Exile, there was not a king; the kingship in Israel had died out. There was not a king after the house of David for many, many, many years. In fact, by the time the events of the Gospel reading for today came about, the house of David was literally a laughingstock in Israel; there was nothing left. One could look at that and say, “Where is your God? Do you really believe these prophecies that were spoken in the Old Testament? How is it possible that God has made this promise and all of a sudden an Edomite would be the king in Israel (that is, Herod)? How is it possible, if God has made His promises that He has not fulfilled them? Therefore, there must not be a God – or at least not the one that you worship.” Is that not the reasoning that many people follow, not by looking at the house of David, but looking at their own life? “Why should I believe in God? Look at what He’s allowed to happen to me! If God really existed, He wouldn’t do this or He wouldn’t do that or He would do it this way or that way.” Once again, we fall right into the same problem of Adam and Eve: We try to be God and we try to tell Him how He is supposed to do things rather than allowing Him to be the One showing us how to do things.
So in the Gospel reading, once again, we see the incomparable humility of God coming down through the power of the Holy Spirit and announced by an angel to a virgin from Nazareth in Galilee, with the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowing her so that she would conceive a son. It tells us very clearly in Saint Luke’s Gospel that he will be holy, the Son of God. And is it not exactly the fulfillment of what we see in the first reading where God says to David regarding this one heir, “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me”? That is exactly what we see in Jesus Christ. It is not enough that God in the glory of the Ark of the Covenant would dwell in a tent, but now He has come to dwell in human flesh. He took on our nature. The infinite God, the all-powerful God has chosen to become a man in the womb of the most humble human person to ever walk the face of the earth. He has chosen to dwell in the tent of our earthly body. The New Covenant, Jesus Christ, has humbled himself infinitely beyond what God had humbled Himself in the Old Testament by dwelling among this people of Israel in a tent. Now we see the humility and the condescension of God in Jesus Christ, and it is this mystery upon which we must meditate. We must keep this mystery of the Incarnation of Christ before us at all times because it is only in that, in looking at Him, in looking at His humility and meditating upon this humility and the love which is beneath that humility, that we are ever going to begin to understand the kind of glory that we should give to God.
It is in this mystery of the Incarnation that we can look at that second reading, then, and understand what Saint Paul is talking about: To Him who can strengthen you according to the Gospel, according to the proclamation of Jesus Christ, to Him be glory forever. But God does not stop there. It was not enough for God to dwell in the Ark of the Covenant in a tent, and it was not enough for God to dwell in human flesh, born of a virgin. Saint Paul goes on to talk about the fact that we need to glorify God not only because of the proclamation of the Gospel, not only because of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, but because of the mystery hidden from ages past but now revealed to us, the mystery that the Gentiles are coheirs with the Jews and fellow members of the household of God. But the absolute humility of God is such that He has incorporated you and me – incredible sinners that we are – into Himself. It was not enough for Him to take human flesh in a sinless virgin, but He has taken our sinful humanity into Himself and He has raised us up by giving us a share in His divine nature. That is the humility of God.
Just think if God would ask us to dwell in tents. Get rid of your nice, fancy house and go dwell in your backyard in a tent. It is fun for the kids to do that on a nice summer afternoon, but is that the way we want to live? God did it for centuries and never once complained. Then He took our humanity to Himself. He did not see that that was beneath His dignity, which should certainly tell us something about our own dignity. If our humanity is not beneath God, why do we think so little of ourselves? But more than that, that God would incorporate us into Himself, that He would forgive our sins, that He would make us members of His own Son so that we can call Him “Father” and He will be a father to us and we will be children to Him, and that we would be heirs, not only heirs in an earthly kind of succession of David, but rather, heirs to the house that God built for David – the house of Jesus Christ – heirs to the very throne of Jesus Christ Himself because we are members of Jesus Christ and we will be seated with Him if we remain faithful to Him; that is why we must glorify God.
We need to glorify Him just for who He is. We need to glorify Him for his humility in choosing the people of Israel and dwelling in a tent. We need to glorify Him even more because He has become man, born of a virgin. And for us, that God would humble Himself so profoundly that He would allow us – you as an individual, me as an individual – to be incorporated into Himself to share His divine nature, to share His divine life and all of the other things I have already spoken of! We need to give Him nonstop glory for the rest of our lives in this world, and that will merely be the preparation to give Him nonstop glory for all eternity because we want to do what David did, that is, something similar. David wanted to build God a house; God built a house for David. We want to glorify God, so He glorifies us. We allow ourselves to be humble; God humbles Himself infinitely more and turns around and accepts what we should have done in the first place. Just as David should have built God a temple in the first place, now because of this tiny, little act of reverence on David’s part to say, “I want to build You a house,” God accepts that, turns it around, and says, “I will build a house for you.” And now because we actually choose to do what we should have been doing right from the start, and when we look at this and understand it, even a little bit, and we turn to God with our tiny, little desire to say, “Lord, I want to glorify you,” God turns around and says, “Because you want to do this, I will glorify you.” That is the humility and the condescension of God, and that is cause for the greatest glory, not looking at what God has done for us, but rather, now looking at what our response is to Him. He has glorified us; He continues to glorify us; and if we remain faithful, He will glorify us for all eternity. In response, we need to choose to glorify Him now and forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.