by Father Mike Stubbs
Among the changes resulting from the new translation of the Mass, Catholics may notice the word “hosts.” It appears in the Holy, Holy and takes the place of the phrase “power and might.”
In this instance, the word “hosts” does not refer to the wafers that we use as altar breads. Instead, the word “hosts” translates the Hebrew word “Sabaoth,” which means “armies.”
God was called “God of the armies “ because God would lead the men into battle. God’s presence was represented by a portable shrine, the ark, which was carried at the head of the army. It was a gold-plated wooden box, topped with the figures of two kneeling cherubim, facing each other.
Significantly, the ark was empty, except for the two stone tablets on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments. The ark was empty, except for God’s presence. That is why, in Sunday’s first reading — 2 Sm 7: 1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16 — it is called “the ark of God.” God dwelt in the ark. And because of the ark, God dwelt among the people of Israel.
In the reading, King David expresses his displeasure that the ark, unlike him, has not found a permanent resting place. He announces his intention to build a temple in Jerusalem, which he has established as the new capital city of the recently unified kingdom: “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent.”
David’s plan to build a temple may reflect genuine religious piety. But it may also reflect his political ambitions. Having the ark of God reside in his capital city would definitely strengthen his image among the people.
Be that as it may, David never achieves his plan. Instead, the next king, his son Solomon, eventually builds the temple. In response to David’s plan, the prophet Nathan reveals God’s plan to David. God will build a dynasty from David that will last forever: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever.”
These words may have sounded hollow in 587 B.C., when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the invading Babylonian army, the temple and the ark burned, and the people of Israel dragged off into captivity. The survivors must have wondered: Where is God now? Where does God dwell now?
As Christians, we answer that God came to dwell with us through Jesus Christ. God has established a new kingdom through him, a spiritual kingdom, one that will last forever. That is the great mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery we celebrate at Christmas.