Engaging the Word: Readings for 12/21/14 (Fourth Sunday of Advent)

By Barbara Klugh

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, God promises David he will build him a royal dynasty that will last forever, Paul ends his letter to the Romans with a hymn of praise, and Mary says “yes” to God.

 Nathan advises King David, by Matthias Scheits (1630 - 1700). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Nathan advises King David, by Matthias Scheits (1630 – 1700). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Samuel: 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book, and we’ll have more than a dozen readings from them during this church year. This week’s reading takes place when David is king over all Israel and has brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. It tells the story of the establishment of the Davidic Covenant, God’s promise to David that his dynasty would last forever.

In this week’s reading, David is living in a luxurious house of cedar and wants to build a temple for God, rather than the portable tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant. The prophet Nathan said to go ahead, but then the Lord tells Nathan that he is not interested in a new house. To me, the words spoken by God sound comical, like God is saying, “Excuse me?” The creator of the universe and all that is in it says, “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?…Did I ever speak a word [about wanting a house]? God reminds David that he traveled with the Israelites through the desert, and took David from herding sheep to his role as king, has been with him and protected him from his enemies every step of the way. But David’s heart was in the right place and God is ever gracious. God says he will build David a different kind of house—a royal dynasty. The Lord declares, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”

To round out the story, when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, prophets understood that God would raise up another anointed one, a Messiah, from David’s line. And as Christians know, the Messiah came, and his name is Jesus. According to scripture, our Lord Jesus Christ is a descendent of King David through Joseph by adoption (Matthew) and through Mary by blood (Luke).

Psalm: Our selection from Psalm 89 praises God’s goodness and faithfulness to David and for establishing the Davidic covenant. Later, though not part of our reading, the psalm turns dark as the community laments that God seems to have forgotten his promise, probably because the Babylonian army has destroyed Jerusalem.

Paul (c. 1000). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Paul (c. 1000). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Romans: This week’s brief reading concludes Paul’s letter to the Romans with a doxology, a short hymn of praise to God. Because these verses appear at various places in different ancient manuscripts or are missing altogether, some scholars argue that these three verses were added by later scribes and editors. Maybe so, but the words are life-giving nonetheless. The power of God is able to strengthen all of us so that we can live in obedience to our faith when we surrender to the love of Christ. Because of what God had done through Jesus Christ we can join in proclaiming, “Now to God…to whom be the glory forever! Amen. “

Luke: In this week’s gospel we read the story of the annunciation to the Virgin Mary, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary of Nazareth, that she will conceive and give birth to a son and she is to name him Jesus, meaning “Savior” or “the Lord saves.”

Mary finds out all this when she is visited by Gabriel, who said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Annunciation (1712), by Paolo de Matteis. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Annunciation (1712), by Paolo de Matteis. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Not surprisingly, Mary is confused, but Gabriel tells her not to be afraid for she has been chosen by 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 wonders how this can happen, since she’s a virgin, and the angel says, “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.” The angel tells Mary about her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant in her advanced age. “For nothing is impossible with God.” Then Mary gives the greatest answer, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Some of us take the story literally, and others take it as symbolic and mythological. I like what William Barclay says: “In this matter we may make our own decision. It may be that we desire to cling to the literal doctrine of the virgin birth; it may be that we will prefer to think of it as a beautiful way of stressing the presence of the Spirit of God in family life.”

Kathleen Norris writes in Amazing Grace, “I treasure this story because it forces me to ask: When the mystery of God’s love breaks into my consciousness, do I run from it? Do I ask of it what it cannot answer? Shrugging, do I retreat into facile clichés, the popular but false wisdom of what ‘what we all know’? Or am I virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self, and say something new, a ‘yes’ that will change me forever?”

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