2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
In the early part of 2nd Samuel David became the undisputed king of the united nation of Israel and brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the new capital. Things were going well. So well, in fact, that David settled into a comfortable home and had “rest from all his enemies around him.” The peace David experienced gave him pause to consider the current condition of the Lord’s dwelling. Since the time of the exodus God had resided at the center of a multi-roomed tent, in the ‘holy of holies’, perched on the mercy seat which covered the Ark of the Covenant. David, himself surrounded by luxury, finds these living conditions for the Almighty unacceptable and tells his prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” David desires to build God a more suitable dwelling. The prophet Nathan encourages David to move forward with this idea. So far the narrative makes total sense, and we expect what follows to be an example of David’s pious behavior in constructing a suitable temple for YHWH, the God of Israel.
What follows however is an intervention by God who puts the brakes on David’s temple building plans. The Lord’s opening question, “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?”, establishes the priority of the divine agenda over the human agenda. It is God, not David, who is establishing Israel. The chief subject of God’s response to David that takes us through the remainder of the reading is God (“I have not lived…I brought up…I have been moving…I have moved…did I ever speak…I commanded…I took you…I have been with you…I will make for you…I will appoint…I will give you rest…the LORD will make you a house.”).
God reminds David that God never complained about his circumstances, and that God was happy to move about in God’s tent with the people. Moreover it was God who took David from his meager existence as a shepherd to ruler over the people. It is God who has established David’s house, and not David who will establish God’s house. The house and kingdom that God built for David was “made sure” and “established forever.”
Advent is God’s agenda. There is no house we can build for the Lord. We do not establish the kingdom of God; the kingdom of God is established for us. We populate the kingdom, and we work along with God in lifting up the fallen, and in caring for the destitute. Often we defend God during this time of year (“keep Christ in Christmas”) and we worry about the state of the Lord’s dwelling. Our worry is misplaced. The Davidic covenant was established by God and its promise was realized in our gospel lection “the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David…and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Today the promise of the Davidic covenant, realized in Christ, still stands. Today God is still at work, moving amongst God’s people, bringing about the end of tyranny, violence, and oppression, so we all can have rest from our enemies.
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Our selection from Psalm 89 extols the steadfast love and faithfulness of God. God put these attributes on display in the covenant God made with David (vs. 3-4; see commentary above). The love and faithfulness of God are as “firm as the heavens.” This is significant in the verses that follow (the verses passed over by the lectionary), for in those verses God is praised as the one who founded the heavens and the earth (vs. 11) and as “great and awesome above all that are around him” including the feared Rahab, an Ancient Near Eastern mythic creature, who God “crushed like a carcass.”
God’s covenant is based not on God’s temporal affinity with Israel, or David, but on God’s cosmic prowess. The God whose “hand is strong and high” (vs. 13) and whose “mighty arms scatters his enemies” (vs. 10) is the same God who promises “my hand shall always remain with him [David]; my arm also shall strengthen him” (vs. 21).
The message that God’s covenant rests on God’s cosmic might falls on the ears of those in apparent exile (vss. 38-52–also passed over by the lectionary). The lament that ends Psalm 89 proposes a question to God almighty, “If indeed your promises are everlasting, and if indeed you are mighty beyond all those around you, and if indeed your arm is with David and his descendents, then where is our deliverance?”
In advent we remember that God’s promises, although at times difficult to believe, are far more cosmic in scope than our temporal troubles allow. Even in our deepest moments of tortured lament, we think back to the promises given David and we hope for a future blessed by God’s mighty arm and strong hand. In the meantime we pray, “Come, Son of David, have mercy on us.”
Our epistle lection is Paul’s doxological ending to his letter to the Romans. Romans is the only letter of the so called “genuine Pauline epistles” that ends in doxology rather than benediction (c.f. 1 Corinthians 16:23-24; 2 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 6:18; Philippians 4:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:28; and Philemon 25). Doxology is a praise to God. Benediction is a blessing to the people of God. Why does Paul choose to end Romans, which has the longest of all of Paul’s personal greetings, with doxology and not benediction?
Romans is Paul’s most developed gospel proclamation (in letter form). In it Paul describes the common need of all creation to be restored by God. This includes all of humanity, both Jew and Gentile, as well as the earth and the heavens themselves. Paul asserts that what we were unable to accomplish in our fickle obedience to the Law, God was able to accomplish in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore there is good news for all. The letter of Romans, in and of itself, which proclaims this good news is a benediction. And so with the benediction accomplished, Paul moves naturally to what follows ‘blessing’, which is doxological praise to the one who blesses.
When Gabriel led in with “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Mary didn’t know what to think. Favored? Since when? Apparently this strange man hadn’t heard that being a peasant girl from a small shady Galilean town was not exactly an enviable life style. Still there was an eerie prophetic familiarity with the words as spoken (e.g. Genesis 26:24; 28:15; Exodus 3:12; Jeremiah 1:8). What could this mean?
The angel explains that Mary will conceive in her womb and have a son and that this son will carry on the promise given at God’s covenant with David, and that this son will rule over an everlasting kingdom. Oh, is that all?!
When Mary receives this proclamation she meets it, as we might suspect, with incredulity. The first objection that comes to her head is biological–I can’t have a child, I am a virgin. The angel calmly explains that this is nothing the Holy Spirit can’t fix, and if you want proof simply visit your barren aunt Elizabeth who is six months pregnant in her old age, for nothing is impossible with God!
In the span of three verses Mary changes her tune, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Sometimes in the brevity of the biblical accounts we miss the astonishing realities contained therein. Why would God choose Mary? And how is it that Mary is able to accept this divine nomination? And is it every possible to believe so ludicrous a thing?
The annunciation is no small text. It is not ancillary. All of us find ourselves in Mary’s difficult spot: greeted by a stranger, asked to get on board, told to allow the Holy Spirit to use us, and prodded to believe in the impossible.
Advent is real. It’s not just a lead up to Christmas. We’re not being metaphorical. We believe in God’s coming. The announcement has been made. Which one of us will now turn and say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the promises of God. They seem so lavish, and so incredulous. When we doubt, is it because we fail to remember that God is a cosmic being who transcends us in every way. When we fail to bring about the utopian ideal of the kingdom of God, does it come to mind that it is not us but God who establishes the kingdom? When we see the work of God, and the impossible becoming possible, do we lift up our doxology, and do we pledge our allegiance–Here am I, the servant of the Lord.