Fourth Sunday in Advent 2 Samuel 7:1-17, Psalm 132:(1-7) 8-19, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38
When the people of God rejected God as their King and chose instead to have a human king like other nations, God in perhaps one of the most perplexing moments in Old Testament history, accepts their request.
Dissatisfied with the unreliable nature of the Judges who God would raise up from time to time to defend and save his people, they appeal to the last Judge, Samuel, to anoint for them a king. He anoints Saul to be the King of Israel though through malice and madness he is rejected. He did not walk in God’s ways.
Whatever Israel hoped for from the king they so desired, they did not get it. But God has mercy on them.
He raises up for them a new king, David. Hardly a paragon of virtue, and the Bible makes no such claim about him, only that God has chosen him because he is a man after God’s heart: That his inclination is to listen to the voice of the Lord.
And the Lord worked by David’s hand to bring peace to the people of God and to protect them from those who would oppress them.
By God’s strength he establishes Jerusalem on Mount Zion to be the center of the life of God’s people. And when God has given him rest on every side, he says to Nathan the prophet:
“See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent”
This is the tent that Moses had built when the people of God were liberated from slavery in Egypt. This is the Tent that went with them in their wilderness wanderings, the place where God met them, the place where the glory of God was manifest, where The Ark of the Covenant dwelt.
But now the days of wandering in tents are over. God’s people are settled in their promised land. Will God be pleased to remain in a tent, when the king dwells in a splendid palace?
And if the Ark is in a tent, could God choose to leave? Is this God who has rescued them from slavery and fought for them all these years, is this God here to stay?
God speaks to the prophet Nathan: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
This God, the God of Israel’s salvation, is not a mute idol, a convenient fiction to fulfil the religious desires of wandering nomads. This God speaks back. He has no need for us to serve him. He is the source all Being, the creator of all things, and he has chosen to redeem for himself a people who had been lost in the darkness of sin and death.
He has no need for David to build a house for him to dwell in. Heaven and earth cannot contain his glory. And much less does God desire to be recompensed for all his goodness toward him, if such a trade were possible. A house to dwell in will not repay God for his unmerited grace and favor.
And yet there is more grace to come. God’s plans for David are beyond anything he could dream. The God who took him from tending sheep to be king, who has given him victory in battle, who has been with him for all these years, this God will establish David’s house, a royal lineage and a throne which will last forever.
It appears that this promise comes true following the death of David when Solomon takes the throne and God gives him the task of building the first Temple in Jersualem. Then at last there is a place where God might be found in the midst of his people.
But it doesn’t last does it.
Those who come after Solomon are variously wicked, faithless, cowardly, lukewarm, and disobedient. The last king in the succession of David is blinded and taken away to die in captivity. The Temple is burned to the ground by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
No place for God to dwell.
No king to save his people.
But the curious thing about this promise, the promise God made to David to build for him a house and establish a throne forever, is that the people of God kept on believing it.
Even after the obvious flaws and failures of descendents of David.
Even after the Temple is burned to the ground.
Because the promises of God can be counted on. His word is as trustworthy as the fulfilment thereof.
And because these desires of the ancient people of God, those desires which God so graciously affirmed by giving them the king they asked for, are universal.
The desire for a place where we can be safe.
And the desire for someone to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
A Temple and a King.
This desire to be in Zion, in Jerusalem, in the Temple, repeats contantly in the Psalms. These songs are a witness to a steadfast hope that is not moved by what the eye sees, but clings to the promise of God to fulfil his word.
The Lord has made a faithful oath unto David, * and he shall not shrink from it:
“Of the fruit of your body * shall I set upon your throne.
If your children will keep my covenant, and my testimonies that I shall teach them, * their children also shall sit upon your throne for evermore.”
For the Lord has chosen Zion for himself; * he has longed for her to be his habitation:
“This shall be my rest for ever; * here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein.
The good news of Christmas is that this hope is not vain.
For the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said
Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
God had no need for us to make him a place to dwell. He has prepared a place where he will dwell: Mary, the young woman from Nazareth.
The hope contained in the songs and stories of God’s people is no mere pleasent fable: fodder for preachers to tell their hearers how to be good, or warnings to frighten small children into behaving. This hope in God to keep his word has power. And in the long years before Christ’s Advent these stories and songs of a king, though the occupant was not legitimate, and a temple, though just a shadow of its former self, formed a people who were unlike the other nations.
It is a curious thing that the mere hope of a future fulfilment was sufficient to preserve the people of God through long years of domination by powers far beyond their control.
It is miraculous that this hope would form a people capable of bringing a woman like Mary into the world, full of grace, favored by God.
Mary is the one in whom all the hopes of God’s people dwell. She is the daughter of Zion. The prayers and sighs of sages and prophets, kings and queens, Priests and singers, carried down for generations, inhabit her in such a way that she already has everything she needs when Gabriel comes to her.
There is no question in her mind about this being the fulfilment of God’s promise long ago. Of course the one who will sit on David’s throne will be more than a human king. Of course God’s dwelling place is not a house made of stones and wood.
But she asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
Even this question is one asked in hope. It’s pregant with it. This long expected fulfilment, how will it happen?
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. For nothing will be impossible with God.
This word alone is sufficient for her
Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.
This “Yes” to God, what is called in classical Christian terminology “Mary’s Fiat”, is much more than one solitary individual making a discreet decision. It is what happens when in God’s word has so thoroughly formed a people that they are ready to let go of whatever they thought the future might be, to welcome the future that God is bringing about.
It is a people of hope who taught Mary the stories and songs of Israel. It is a people of hope who still serve God in strange lands. It is a people of hope who believe they will see the glory of God once again dwell with his people. It is a people of hope who can see past the failures of their earthly rulers to envision a perfect King, who will rule with justice and put right all that has gone wrong in God’s good creation. It is a people of hope who sing about a promise made to David when the sound of roman soldiers marching through Jerusalem is what accompanies their prayers.
It is hope that made Mary ready to be the dwelling place of God, literally in her womb.
God has no need of a dwelling place made by human hands. By his own word he has prepared his own dwelling place amongst his people.
We are the people who have inherited the hope of Israel, and indeed a better hope through Mary, who bore for us the Son of God, who is God with us and the King who sits upon David’s throne forever.
And so as we carry on singing the song of hope in God’s promise, let us consider Mary, for she is what we by grace will become: A people fit for God to dwell within, who when God calls us we with her will not hold back, but say boldly
Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.