Posts Tagged '4 Advent'

For Dec. 21, 2014: 4 Advent, Year B

The Reading                                                              2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

When King David, the mighty but undeniably flawed ancestor of Jesus, takes it into his head to build God a house as grand as David’s own, the prophet Nathan at first tells him to have at it. As 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 tells it, however, God has other plans, including a “house”—a dynasty—for David.

The Response                                                            Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

Psalm 89 dates to the period of Israel’s subjugation by Babylon, but the verses here sing of the Lord’s love for Israel and for David. The Great Sea is the Mediterranean and the River is the Euphrates, in Mesopotamia: this dominion is thus most of the known world. The speaker in verses 3-4 and 19b-26 is the Lord.

The Epistle                                                                  Romans 16:25-27

In the book of Romans, written around 57 AD, Paul sets out the Church’s earliest understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ and of the salvation he brings. Romans 16:25-27 ends the document with a complicated sentence that dedicates the book forms a doxology, or statement of faith.

The Gospel                                                                    Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26-38 tells the story of the Annunciation. Mary learns from the angel Gabriel that she has been chosen to bear the son of God who will rule as the heir of David, if she agrees. Mary responds not by strutting and preening and making grand plans—unlike David—but by questioning and listening and at length saying yes.

 

Further thoughts

Whoever said, “Life is what happens while we are making other plans,”[1] the saying resonates for most of us—and it resonates in the readings for the last Sunday in Advent.

King David, having unified Israel and made Jerusalem its capital, receives from King Hiram of Tyre a grand house of cedar (2 Samuel 5:11). While relaxing in it, David gets a terrific idea: the Lord surely needs a house as grand, and David himself plans to build it. That night, however, the word of the Lord comes to Nathan. It is not for David to build the Lord a house. Instead, the Lord is going to make of David and his sons a “house”—a dynasty—that will rule in God’s name forever. As the following history of Israel amply demonstrates, however, the kings who follow all fail, in large ways or small, to carry out God’s plan, and the line seems to die out.

Mary’s plans for her life must have been much simpler: she is going to marry Joseph the carpenter. Then an angel shows up: “Hail, favored one! You can be the mother of a mightier king than David.” Unlike her famous forebear, Mary stops to think and to listen. Not only is the child to be a new David, he will be called the Son of God. Then she says yes, trusting in God to make this work. Mary is rightly honored above all women as the Theotokos or God-carrier. It is good to remember that being favored of God does not mean being spared all trouble: Mary will stand at the foot of the cross and watch her innocent boy die the most horrible of deaths.

And even in that darkness, the Lord is no less with her.

 

[1] http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/05/06/other-plans/

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For Dec. 23, 2012: 4 Advent, Year C

The Reading            Micah 5:2-5a

The eighth-century BC prophet Micah foretold the destruction of Jerusalem for its sins and the sins of its rulers. Like the later prophet Zephaniah in last week’s reading, here Micah offers comfort to the ordinary people and the downtrodden: from little Bethlehem will come a ruler who will gather God’s flock and “be the one of peace.” In Micah’s time this was the righteous king Hezekiah; we now read this as a prophecy of the Messiah.

The Response            Canticle 15, Luke 1:46-55: the Magnificat

The Epistle            Hebrews 10:5-10

On this final Sunday before Christmas, when we might expect more of Paul’s great good joy in the Thessalonians and Philippians, we and the Hebrews instead get a dose of theology: what God wants of us is not ritual sacrifices but right living. The point here is at the core of Christmas: it is Jesus coming to do the will of God that sanctifies us—and it gives us a model to follow.

The Gospel            Luke 1:39-45

 

Further thoughts

Two millennia on, we tend to figure we have a pretty good idea what to expect from this Advent thing: make the cider, wrap the presents, deal with the crowds and the office parties, light the candles, practice the carols… We know the drill, year by year.

Or do we? The year C readings for Advent, summed up in the readings for the fourth Sunday, however, remind us just how unexpected the whole thing is. The King of glory is about to be born—born? God?? This God made man chooses for his birthplace not a center of power like Rome nor an important religious place like Jerusalem but the has-been backwater town of Bethlehem, and not a palace scented with lavender water but a stable that smells of the sweat (and more) of working animals and working people as well. His mother, who by now is hugely and obviously pregnant, is no princess or empress: she is a teenage unwed mother, in a society that frowns mightily on that sort of thing. This God is bound for glory—what God wouldn’t be?—but by way of the most horrible, squalid, shameful death ever. The point of it all is to give hope to those who haven’t had hope.

What’s more, the God about to be born has already made out a Christmas list. Let’s see what’s on it: Piles of gold? No. Yokes of oxen split and burned as a sacrifice? Not even. Clouds of incense to make even the strongest of choirs sneeze? Nice, but optional. No: this God’s Christmas list consists of… me, and you, and the best of our love to be God’s hands and feet and hope-builders.

What kind of God asks for that? Well, I think it takes our whole lives to work out the answer.

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?