Sermon notes (2004) The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
In the Torah, the first five books of the bible, we learn what great care God took in planning the temple in Jerusalem. For God describes in intricate detail what the Temple was to be like, and God carefully chose the craftsmen He wanted to do the work. God did not let the building of His temple be left to chance but He made clear His choices, and He personally guided the decisions to be made regarding the Temple, because the Temple was to be the sign of His presence on earth amidst His chosen people. The Temple was the place where God was to dwell on earth.
Are we to imagine that when our God chose the woman to be the mother of His Son, that he took any less care? That He just picked any childbearing female without regard to who she was? It seems reasonable based on the detailed description which God revealed to His people about the Temple in Jerusalem and about its consecration, that God took equal care and love in choosing Mary to be the Mother of His Son.
In the Church we have the Feast of the Entrance of the Virgin Mary into that Temple. We have the woman carefully chosen by God because of who she is – even before she conceives God’s Son – now entering the Temple which God so carefully designs and decorates.
Now both the Virgin and the Temple are signs of God’s loving care for the world, both are where and how God dwells on earth, and both are signs of God’s presence. But the Temple in Jerusalem that massive structure of huge stones which so impressed the disciples of Christ, and whose detail and beauty was revealed by God, has long been destroyed and is no longer a sign from God. That old temple was a sign of God’s presence, and yet God dwelt there only occasionally and eventually He abandoned that temple and allowed it to be destroyed. Whereas the Virgin, who is the temple in which God became incarnate, remains a sign to God’s people until this day. A temple not built by hands and which cannot be destroyed by human means. She indeed and in purpose has become the eternal sign and temple of God’s dwelling with us. Even though God also dwelt in her only for a short time, her role was to make the eternal God to be incarnate, something the old temple in Jerusalem could never do. Her role has become eternal. Her role was to make the eternal incarnate. She is the permanent sign of God’s eternal presence on earth – a sign that cannot be destroyed, like the old and massive Jerusalem Temple could be and was.
In the original temple which Solomon built was placed the Ark of the Covenant, that sarcophagus like box over which the cherubim spread their wings. And in the Ark was kept the stone tablets on which the 10 Commandments were written. The written Word of God symbolically contained in the Ark within the Temple. But all of that, as important and holy as it was, given as gifts from God to His people, were lost in history. They did not permanently survive despite being made of stone, nor could they make permanent God’s relationship with humanity. But the Virgin Mary, humble as she was, became what the Ark and Temple could not be. For in Mary, the Word of God was inscribed, not on tablets of stone, but rather becoming incarnate in her womb – the Word became flesh, not stone. And this incarnation of the Word of God is the one which has become the eternal sign of God’s presence. The Ark and Temple described in the Torah were temporary, and were but a preparation for the reality which came in Mary’s womb – the incarnation of the Son of God. And Mary and Her Son are the permanent sign of God’s Word in our midst – something that even those tablets of stone could not become.
The 10 Commandments, given to us by God, are not the permanent sign of God’s presence with us, but rather it is the incarnation of the Word of God – Jesus Christ who is our Savior and redeemer. Jesus is for us what the tablets of stone could never be – our salvation, our way of union with our God.
God’s Word is a living Word – it is Jesus Christ, not a tablet of stone, not a book in print, but a human who is God incarnate. And God’s true temple turns out not to be a massive and beautiful building of permanent stone and marble and granite, but a beautiful woman who God chose because of what He saw in her. God’s plan was not that His Word become stone, but rather that His Word become flesh. God’s salvation occurs not by God becoming etched into a rock, but by His becoming human so that we humans can be united to Him. God in the flesh, God united to humanity, not law written on stone which is our salvation. We Christians give thanks for the incarnation which is our salvation. That is why we so honor the Virgin.
And perhaps that is why some who think salvation comes from God’s Word written on stone tablets find it difficult to honor the Virgin Mother of God.
And in the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple we celebrate in thanksgiving this Virgin who is God’s temple, the Theotokos, who becomes for us the mother of our salvation. A permanent sign of God’s abiding love – a sign now eternal in heaven, eclipsing all the temple could ever be. And we honor her for what she has become to the entire world.
More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, she gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos, we magnify you.