Advent Sunday 4

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a,16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

My heart leapt when I saw the readings for this last Sunday in Advent. I have always looked forward to Advent for the prominence given to Old Testament texts. I think I would describe myself as having an Old Testament heart. Today’s first reading from Samuel has a been significant for me since I was a teenager. It is a pivotal text in Old Testament study and is described by Walter Brueggemann as ‘the taproot of the Messianic idea in Israel’. As with any text that is taken out of context, the hearer in the liturgical setting usually has to work quite hard in order to understand what is being said. This is especially true of today’s text.

Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’

But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:

Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a,16

Previously in Ch 5 of the Second book of Samuel David has triumphantly taken Jerusalem from Jebusite control and also led a successful campaign against the Philistines. His triumph is attributed to the fact that God is ‘with him’. In Ch 6 he attempts to move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem in order to guarantee God’s presence in that beloved city. It doesn’t go smoothly at first, but after three months the Ark is safely placed in the tent which David has pitched for it. It is with this background that we approach today’s first reading. David now wonders about the possibility of building something grander to house the Ark. The prophet Nathan’s response contains an all important wordplay with the word ‘house’ as this can also mean ‘dynasty’. The roles are now reversed as David will no longer need to build God a ‘house’ as God intends to build David a dynasty. God makes a ground breaking promise that in the lineage of David his faithful love will be made manifest. Up until this point God’s promises have been conditional, but now the dynasty is guaranteed in perpetuity. None of this is David’s doing. As the story of salvation unfolds there are many falls from grace along the way. God’s promise remains.

It is with the words of this monumental prophecy that we approach our Gospel text from Luke.

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38

Each part of the promise to David is found in Luke’s text:

the Lord will make you great
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High

your throne (will) be established for ever
The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David

I will be a father to him and he a son to me
He will rule over the House of Jacob for ever

Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.
and his reign will have no end

I find the symmetry in these texts very comforting. I can see clearly that God’s power and promise reach their fulfillment in Christ. Yet, in each story God requires some human co-operation. In the realms of God’s faithful covenantal love there is room for mishaps and mistakes. It’s usual to see Mary’s ‘yes’ as freely given and wholehearted. Legend and faith tradition see Mary as chosen from all time, with a heart so pure as almost to guarantee a ‘Yes’. It’s not always easy to live up to this model. I’ve been greatly helped this Advent by a quote I saw online from Sr Elizabeth Meluch ocd:

The people of Advent are “us”. The Baptist prods us on to newness, and the Zachariah in us resists until our Elizabeth insists. Our Joseph lets it happen, and the young Mary in us seizes the gift and runs with it. It must be so if the Christ in us is to be born. ~

Perhaps we can have courage this Advent to allow the Mary in us to ‘seize the gift and run with it’?