“I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And someday yonder, we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold.”
I liked that idea: moving into a big mansion someday, sitting on the veranda, gazing out over the rolling green hills of my estate. In fact, I thought it would be nice to enjoy that mansion sooner rather than later.
We visited the Biltmore House, and I thought, “Now this is where I’d like to live.” There’s plenty of room to spread out. Friends could come to visit, enjoy a feast of food, play a few games, chat until the early morning hours and sleep late. We’d be living the life of Riley, er Vanderbilt.
I started dreaming about houses. For years, I’d dream about gigantic houses. The inside of the house always seemed so much larger than the outside. Inevitably, I’d discover rooms that I didn’t even know existed. Many of these dreams were spent exploring. Last summer, I went down to the basement of my “dream house” and discovered a warehouse-sized room. The room was filled with young people and a band was playing at the far end. Cool. I never realized there was a band playing in my basement.
As we wait in Advent anticipation, I’m thinking about those houses. Maybe it’s the cold outside. I’m thinking about staying with my bride and cuddling up on a cold night in front of the fire. What a blessing. A house provides protection from the wind and rain and snow.
What do you do in a house? You live there. You eat meals. You talk, tell stories, laugh, and maybe cry. You relax. When you’re in your own home, you can let down your guard. Walk around in your pajamas. Watch TV. Read a book. Play a game. You might decorate the house with pictures of friends and relatives. Your house is one of the key places for remembering. From looking at pictures to celebrating birthdays, you have rituals of remembering the family. It’s a place of refuge and protection from the elements and from intruders. The house is a place where you care for your body, your physical needs: from cleaning to resting to healing from sickness. A house is or should be a safe place. It’s a place to enjoy your friends and family. You could say that a house is built to hold a family.
God builds houses and teaches his people to build houses. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God” (Heb 3:4). He taught Noah how to build a house that floats (the ark). Think about it. He showed Noah how to build a house that was still standing after Judgment Day.
Judgment Day, oddly enough, is connected to Advent. The Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary focuses on the book of Amos for the first two weeks of Advent. Two weeks of reading passages about God’s judgment and fire, burning down the houses of Israel’s neighbors and finally consuming Israel. When judgment falls, the houses built on sand fall, “Splat!”
Some really big houses have been built on sand. Think about Pharaoh’s house. It was big. Really big. It was also a house of slavery and it would not, could not stand.
As it turns out, our world is filled with houses of slavery, houses of anger, houses of pain and toil. The world is full of empty houses of loneliness, absence, and forgetfulness.
If a house holds relationships, think of all the broke-down houses: families, business, communities where people are hurt and hurt one another: No warm cuddly fires; no joy-filled music; only painful words and painful actions.
The Lord redeemed Israel from that house of slavery and guided his people, his children, his family, to a house on top of the world. From this house of love, true wisdom would be taught and true justice would be administered. From this house of love, the world gone wrong would be set right, peace and hope and joy would finally prevail over the endless echoes of war.
During Advent we look for the coming, the unveiling of this house, this kingdom, this city. During Advent we hope in the coming Christ who has redeemed all those broken down houses and is building the City of Peace. He is building it through his own body, through his own people. He is fashioning living stones: precious rubies and sapphires and emeralds that will gleam in the full light of His glory.
When this house is fully unveiled, when Christ himself comes in all his glory, the world will not learn war anymore. As we wait with hope this Advent, let us walk in and toward the light of His love.
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the LORD’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
O house of Jacob, come and let us walk
In the light of the LORD.