For December 18, 2011: 4 Advent, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

The second book of the prophet Samuel relates the kingship of David, the mighty ancestor of Jesus. As today’s reading opens, David is flush with victory, settled in peace in a kingly dwelling, and he decides that his next move is to build God a house as grand as his own. God’s response is not what one might expect.

 

The Epistle            Romans 16:25-27

Today’s Epistle reading is both short and long. It is one sentence that forms a doxology, or statement of faith. In this very long sentence Paul takes a very long view: backward to the promises of God in the Old Testament, through the coming of Jesus Christ, and onward to God’s eternity.

 

Further thoughts

On the Sunday before Christmas, one expects the Old Testament lesson to prophesy the birth that we await so eagerly. It does that, to be sure: Nathan the prophet concludes by relaying God’s promise that the throne of David—his house, in the sense of ‘dynasty’—will endure forever.

Where the passage begins, however, is with brash King David announcing that he’s going to build God a house. God’s response to this ambition is less than enthusiastic: “Little man, did I ask for a house? Do I need a house? And do you really believe that your path from sheepfold to kingdom was all your own doing?”

In David’s lifetime God’s promises come to pass, mostly, though David’s shortcomings in impulse control, forethought, and humility lead to disasters including his liaison with Bathsheba. David’s progeny, including Solomon, fare no better to much worse, eventually bringing Israel to civil war and subjugation by foreign powers. By the time the Romans put Herod on the throne, there has been no Davidic king in almost 600 years; one could be forgiven for wondering how or even whether God’s promise of “forever” would come to pass.

We know how the story goes from here. God’s promise is fulfilled, of course, in Jesus, and through David’s descendant Mary. We tend to sentimentalize Mary as pure through sheer passivity, but today’s gospel hints that she is more disciplined, prudent, and self-aware than her famous forebear. When the angel Gabriel calls her the favored one of God, Mary doesn’t strut and preen; instead, she asks herself what this could mean. When Gabriel tells her she will be a mother, Mary asks how, showing a grasp of both biology and social implications: pure Mary pregnant out of wedlock is bound to be the subject of finger-pointing, no matter how holy the baby, and she must trust that God will either lead her fiancé and her family to understand or help her go on without them. Finally, Mary understands that, though it is up to her to say yes and then to follow through, it is God’s power and grace that will start her on this astonishing adventure and keep her going.

In short, Mary has a very good idea how costly it will be to say yes to God, and she says it anyway. Who better than she to be the mother of the Lamb who willingly died for our sins?

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