|The Annunciation to Mary, by Fr. George Saget|
The angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that God had chosen her to be the mother of the “Son of the Most High.” This son of hers would also receive the throne of his ancestor David and “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:26-33). So, in answer to the song, “Mary Did You Know?” the answer is yes, Gabriel gave her the news.
Gabriel’s announcement to Mary is rooted in God’s promise to David made centuries before that David’s house and kingdom would be “made sure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Sam 7:16). With this promise, we move closer to the “little town of Bethlehem,” where the Son of the Most High lay in a manger.
To get a feel for the story that we read in Second Samuel, we need to remember that the story of David’s encounter with Nathan took place four hundred years before the story was written for exiles living in Babylon. When this story was read to the exiles, their beloved Temple lay in ruins and no one reigned from David’s throne. Nevertheless, this word was intended to be a word of encouragement to people wondering about their future. How would they know that God was with them without King and Temple?
We hear this word during a pandemic that has forced us into our own time of exile. While modern technology has aided us in staying together to a degree, we may still feel disconnected from God and one another. So, as we experience this moment of exile, perhaps this word from 2 Samuel will provide needed encouragement.
According to our reading, things were going well for King David. He had a nice house made of cedar and he was at peace with his neighbors. Now, he had time to build a house of cedar for God so that the Ark of God could have a proper resting place. Why should David have a nice house while God lived in a tent? It just didn’t look good! And the prophet Nathan agreed, at least until God sent a different message to David.
Here is the word from God delivered through Nathan: “Are you the one to build a house for me to live in?” After all, “When 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?’” (2 Sam. 7:7). It appears that God doesn’t need a fancy house to be present with the people. God seemed to be happy living in a tent, moving about with the people.
God also reminded the king of his own humble origins. Remember, Nathan said, how God took David from a pasture to lead Israel. Instead of David building a house for God, God would build a house for David, make David’s name great, and provide a safe place for Israel to live. Even though Israel lived in exile without a king, the house of David would be established forever.
We hear this word to David as followers of Jesus on the Fourth Sunday of Advent as we prepare for Christmas in the midst of a pandemic. We hear it in light of the word given to Mary:
30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)
As we ponder this message together with Mary, there is another passage of Scripture that can help us understand the promise revealed in 2 Samuel. That Scripture is the prologue to the Gospel of John, where we read that the “Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). When John wrote that the Word “lived among us,” he could have used the words tented or tabernacled. In other words, according to John, Jesus is the tabernacle described in 2 Samuel in which God dwelt as God moved about with the people. This word reminds us that God’s presence isn’t tied to a building. This is true of the building we call our church, as well as the grand cathedrals Cheryl and I visited during our trip to Europe. While these ancient cathedrals have endured over time and stand as powerful witnesses to the Christian faith, as Linda Lee Cloder writes: God is “constantly ready to pull up stakes and move where we go, sleep where we sleep and be buffeted by the same winds that blow sand in our eyes and tear the roofs off the shelters we erect: Emmanuel!” [Feasting on the Word, p. 79]. Even as we experience the challenges of this pandemic, may we find hope in the promise that the God who moved about in tents and became flesh in the person of Jesus reigns forever. Yes, “hail to the anointed, great David’s greater Son!”
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
December 20, 2020
Saget, Father George. Annunciation to Mary, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56338 [retrieved December 19, 2020]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KeurMoussaAutel.jpg.