The Fourth Sunday of Advent, 20 December 2020
II Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Canticle 3 or Canticle 15
or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we have several references to David, an understandable inclusion that stems from the view that Jesus is “the Son of David.” It might be a good time then to look at Luke’s use of this term (Matthew uses it as well) to understand its intent and value. For that study we ought to look at Luke 20:41-44,
‘The Lord said to my lord,
“Sit at my right hand
This is Jesus’ answer to the scribes who have asked Jesus about the resurrection (see Luke 20:27-40). Jesus in turn questions them about the connection of the Messiah and the title “Son of David” – what is its meaning? Jesus unsettles the very basis of patriarchal society. How can a son be “lord”, when the father must be the lord. Messiahship and all of the expectations that accompany it become all muddled as Jesus stirs the theological and political pots. The expectation was for a Davidic Messiah who would rid the Jews of the meddlesome Romans. Jesus, however, is asking them to entertain an entirely different proposition. Jesus sees the Messiah (the Christ) as being more than a son of David. By using the quote from Psalm 110:1, Jesus makes an even greater claim, for the “lord” he is talking about is the Lord, YHWH, who will raise Jesus from the dead. Luke wants us to look beyond David and see Jesus as the Risen One. In Advent, we don’t look for the coming baby, but rather remember the child who is the Risen One.
First Reading: II Samuel 7:1-11, 16
When the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you."
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus, says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live 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 and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus, says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
If we look backward from this story, we will see a David who has brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, a hint at the desire to build a temple, and his break with Michal, daughter of Saul. It’s time then to look beyond these things, and that is what happens here with the oracle of Nathan. It is the first of David’s dealings with Nathan – a much later encounter will be much more dramatic. What happens here, however, is a rehearsal of YHWH’s choice of David as leader, and an indication that YHWH will continue to make certain that David’s house that “shall be made sure forever.” With this vision we have the foundations of what would become a messianic expectation that would bring Israel hope in the midst of exile, and other difficulties.
Of special value in these verses is the review of God’s deal with a wandering Israel. God’s leadership of and connection with Israel is made vivid in this verse: “And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them.” There is a permanence hinted at here that applies much more widely than just to the House of David. That David should be seen later, through the scrim of the ages of exile, and persecution, as the hope made manifest in Jesus is the point here.
Breaking open II Samuel:
1. Have you reviewed what God has done for you and your family?
2. How are you God’s agent in your community?
3. Do you have a “prophet” who keeps you in touch with God’s intents for you?
The Song of Mary Magnificat
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Some commentators ask us to entertain the notion that it is actually Elizabeth who sings this song made up of various pieces of psalmody, some of it from the Septuagint. It is also helpful if you read Hannah’s song in I Samuel 2:1-10, which may have supplied Luke or the tradition with a great deal of imagery and phrasing. Regardless of who is responsible for the song, there is a great deal of theology in its two sections. The first section (verses 46-50) speaks to an individual joy in what God has done for her. That she should be blessed, and that God has done great things, are seen as realities for the woman who sang this.
The second section (verses 51-55) speaks of the blessings that are to be given to Israel. The phraseology is strong, almost strident – “He has shown might with his arm.” God here is related to all of Israel, not to just one individual. Fred Danker in his commentary comments, “Typical of prophetic language is the use of the past tense to describe the certainty of fulfillment for God’s promises.” Luke loves to tie the details and promises of the Hebrew Scriptures to the new Kingdom of Heaven, and to the nations that are called to it. Here, however, the promises ae for Israel, and Abraham and his descendants.
Breaking open the Magnificat:
1. What are the social aspects of this song?
2. Do you hear a call to do something in these verses?
3. What are you called to do?
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 Misericordias Domini
1 Your love, O Lord, for ever will I sing; *
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
2 For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever; *
you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.
3 "I have made a covenant with my chosen one; *
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
4 'I will establish your line for ever, *
and preserve your throne for all generations.'"
19 You spoke once in a vision and said to your faithful people: *
"I have set the crown upon a warrior
and have exalted one chosen out of the people.
20 I have found David my servant; *
with my holy oil have I anointed him.
21 My hand will hold him fast *
and my arm will make him strong.
22 No enemy shall deceive him, *
nor any wicked man bring him down.
23 I will crush his foes before him *
and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and love shall be with him, *
and he shall be victorious through my Name.
25 I shall make his dominion extend *
from the Great Sea to the River.
26 He will say to me, 'You are my Father, *
my God, and the rock of my salvation.'
In this psalm we have a prayer that either celebrates or looks forward to the end of the exile for Israel. It also looks forward to the restoration of the Davidic kings, and thus has a thematic unity with our readings for today. The psalm begins with an introduction to the notion of a long-lasting dynasty for David. In the elided verses (6-19), God is celebrated as king, and what he has done as creator is recalled. Our reading takes up with David again, noting him as a leader and as a chosen one. God, through the voice of the psalm, pledges support and protection for David. Many of the graces that are given to David are reflective of the graces that God has as creator, “I will set his hand upon the sea, his right hand upon the rivers.” This translation, in the New American Bible, doesn’t have the dynastic and political nuance that is evident in the translation in our reading, “I shall make his dominion extend from the Great Sea to the River.” In other words, the Davidic kings shall rule from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates. I once heard this quoted by an older woman knitting and rocking in her chair at Kibbutz Lavi in Israel. She was countering the claims of the Palestinian peoples in Israel. Sometimes what we see or hear in the psalms becomes a seedbed of controversy.
Breaking open Psalm 89:
1. What does this psalm say about David?
2. How does this psalm relate to the role of Jesus?
3. How is your theology used politically?
Second Reading: Romans 16:25-27
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
It is interesting that in these final verses of the Letter to the Romans, we meet Phoebe who is a deacon at the Church at Cenchreae. She apparently is delivering the letter to the Romans, and they are persuaded to “receive her in the Lord in a worthy manner of the holy ones.” The letter ends with a doxology, which is our reading for today. This doxology does not appear in all the manuscripts and is sometimes placed after 14:12. What catches our attention here is “the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long age.” Christian theology has always seen a connection of the Salvation History of Israel, with the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is that Salvation History that gives us sufficient background to understand all that Jesus does and is. Paul cites the sources of “prophetic writings”, and God as well. But it is her that Paul acknowledges that the implications of Salvation History expand far beyond what was originally thought. For this revelation is to be “made known to all nations.” That is the hope of Advent, not the cradle, not the Crèche, not the tree.
Breaking open Romans:
1. What are your Advent hopes?
2. How is your history connected to Salvation History?
3. Who was responsible for making this revelation known to you?
The Gospel: St. Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “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 holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The Annunciation to Mary, in Luke, is modeled on several examples from the Hebrew Scriptures: 1) the divine messenger, 2) the emotions of the recipient, 3) the message itself, 4) questions from the recipient, and 5) Acceptance. We see this in Genesis 16-17, Ishmael and Isaac, Judges 13, Samson, I Samuel 1, Samuel. What we have here is a confluence of traditions about the birth of Jesus, and a Luke who forms these traditions into a narrative that speaks to his agenda in his Gospel.
The Gospel begins in Jerusalem, and will end dramatically in Jerusalem, but in this instance, we are brought to Galilee, where the ministry of Jesus will begin in earnest. We will be drawn again to Jerusalem in order for Luke to tie Jesus to David, the king, but the beginning of Jesus’ story really begins with this announcement in Galilee. What we have in Luke is the juxtaposition of the grandiose and the commonplace: Jerusalem and Nazareth, Gabriel and Mary, the mighty and those of low estate, angels and shepherds.
In earlier readings, today, we have seen David, as chosen by God and favored by God. But here it is Mary, and we are clued into that by the angel’s greeting, “O favored one”. Both the greeting and the titled are related to the Greek word for “grace”. Like David, Mary is the recipient of God’s grace, in ways that will challenge her and our imaginations. One wonders if her being overcome by the Holy Spirit engendered not only the Child in her womb, but her prophetic nature as well, speaking in clear and definite tones in the Magnificat. Fred Danker writes in his commentary on Luke with regard to Mary calling herself a “handmaid of the Lord”, “Mary is therefore a model of what Israel ought to be, and her self-description is a mark of identity for the new community.”
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. When has the word of the Lord come to you?
2. Who are the angels in your life?
3. In what ways are you a handmaid of the Lord?
General idea: Anointed
Instance 1: Anointed to rule (First Reading)
Instance 2: Anointed to sing (Magnificat and Psalm 89)
Instance 3: Anointed with revelation (Second Reading)
Instance 4: Anointed with the Holy Spirit (Gospel)
Questions and comments copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller