Advent 4: 2 Samuel 7: 1-11, Romans 16: 25-27, Luke 1:26-38
Our focus on the 4th Sunday is God’s covenant with Israel, particularly with the line of David and the promises made to him and his successors. While David desires to build a house for the Lord, God will build a house for David. The house that God will build is a dynasty, a reign under the eternal line of David. While David seeks to take initiative, the story shows how God is the prime actor. Likewise, God, through Gabriel, makes a covenant with Mary, establishing an eternal house through the birth of her son. God’s promises come true as the covenant with Mary builds out the covenant made to David. These encounters reflect God’s faithfulness and God’s righteousness, seen in God’s faithfulness to the covenants made with humanity. These covenants, initiated by God, are part of God’s salvific history.
While exploring the theme of covenant, we would do well to stay away from:
- Comparing the responses of David and Mary.
David, the ruler, seeks to take actions to demonstrate his power and sovereignty by building a house for the Lord (vs. 2), whereas Mary, the lowly bride whose family has no standing, listens to God’s messenger Gabriel . These stories can take us in unproductive contrasts of how the leaders of Israel had failed to understand God and God’s initiatives (2 Sam 7:7) while the powerless are more receptive to God’s offerings (Luke 1:38). At the end of the two stories, God proves faithful both to the over-eager and the reluctant, to royalty and commoner alike.
- The stories of David and Mary are not examples of works theology vs. grace theology.
While David does attempt to build a house to God (vs. 2) he is not seeking to earn any favor from God. The story of God’s favor for David is demonstrated by God placing David at rest from his enemies (vs 1). God’s grace was evident in the relationship forged with David beginning in 1 Sam 16. Mary, in her response to God’s invitation through Gabriel, is perplexed, overwhelmed by the favor being offered to her ( vs. 29). While Mary’s story demonstrates God’s favor and grace entering into her life, David has no less been a recipient of God’s grace and favor. Both stores emphasize the role of the grace of God to provide and lift us up from earthly positions, to be exalted in the kingdom and purposes of God.
- This passage is not a condemnation of the prophetic system common in the story of Israel.
Nathan appears for the first time in 2 Samuel 7, and at first
confirms David’s desire to build a house for the Lord ( vs. 3). Nathan’s standing as a prophet is confirmed in the next verse as God appears to Nathan with a message for David. While Nathan’s first response went against God’s vision, it does not diminish his standing as a prophet. Mary does not have a message from a prophet but an angel (vs. 26). Gabriel’s appearance, like that of a prophet, brings word of God’s view of the world and God’s action in the world, naming what is wrong and promising to set it right. Throughout scripture God has used messengers to bring God’s Word, sometimes human, sometimes heavenly. Our stories are not about who the messenger is, but the message: God’s favor.
- Paul is not proclaiming that the Jewish community does not understand the prophetic texts.
Paul does proclaim that the prophetic words have now been opened to the Gentiles through Christ (vs. 26). Rather than negating or diminishing biblical Israel’s prophetic witness, Paul’s words demonstrate an expansion of God’s revelation beyond Israel to the gentiles.
Our message in Advent should focus on:
- God has entered into covenants to show God’s favor to humanity, an offer of free grace. From Creation, to Abraham, to Sinai, to Mary, God has found favor with humans who have partnered in God’s work. The same invitation is offered to each of us, to be partners in God’s work.
- God’s faithfulness and righteousness are seen in the constancy of the covenants, Sinai and Davidic as well as in Christ. Just as God has been faithful to the covenants of the past, so also we can trust the covenantal promises in Christ, including the full realization of God’s kingdom.
- In Mary we see God’s constancy in the Davidic covenant. This constancy offers us hope in the promises made to Mary and to each of us. Our hope is based upon God’s promises to us, promises that God has kept for Israel and can therefore be trusted to keep.
- God’s promises are not just made to the powerful, like King David, but to the lowly, like Mary. All of creation has a place in the promises of God.
God has worked throughout history to be in covenantal commitment to humanity and the whole creation, and to reach all of us in our various times and places and ways with the good news of that commitment.