24th December 2017
The first and second Books of Samuel have some of the early history of the chosen people. It is an instructive interpretation of past events from which the reader is expected to learn something of the ways of God with people and how people should respond to Him. In our reading (from 2 Samuel chapter 7), King David is presented as a good king who will become an hoped-for ideal ruler when the people reach their zenith of power. The king has subdued all his enemies (with the help of God) and is now settled in his own house (actually a palace) and is at last safe from surrounding enemies; in this successful situation he wants to build a house (in fact a temple) for God, close to the palace in Jerusalem. Up to this point the ‘house’ of God has been the ark of the covenant kept in a sacred tent and transported to different areas to be close to the people in general. The prophet Nathan thinks it is a good idea to have a temple, but later he gets to understand that this is not what God wants, at least for the time being. Rather, what God wants is for the house (the dynasty) of David and all the people to dwell safely and well in the land that He has given them for themselves; and in the future God will raise up an heir of David’s who will reign over an ideal kingdom. But who, reading this history can grasp how this will in fact turn out? We apply it to the Kingdom of God announced by Jesus nearly a millennium after David, but its completion still needs our co-operation.
The second reading is the last three verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans. We don’t have the original of any of the New Testament books, but only manuscripts of a later date. Some of these put these three verses a chapter or so earlier and some have them in both places and I think one omits them altogether. It may be that these verses were not originally by Paul but were added later. But that is by the way; since these verses still have a lot to say. This one sentence tells us that the core message of the Christian teaching is that we are elevated to a higher potential because this is the climax of what was prepared for in the Old Testament (the scriptures). It is God Who enables us to live well as we should, and in accord with the Good News as preached by Paul. Previously, what the Good News was and what God wanted was a mystery, but now it is clear in Jesus Christ. And this is Good News that should spread to all people, including those we think unlikely. You can read more about this here.
In the gospel reading we hear of the annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel. He tells Mary of her role in God’s plan; it is a great favour for her for she is to have a child who will fulfil the longings of God’s people and His promise through the dynasty of David. As David mistook God’s plan for him, so Mary cannot see how this will come about and how God’s plan will come to reality. But the message the angel adds, is that God’s power can achieve what seems impossible to us and is impossible without His help. The Spirit which played such an important part in creation and in the history of the people, will come upon Mary. This power of God is shown in the pregnancy of Mary’s much older cousin Elizabeth with John the Baptist. Mary verbally accepts the word of God and co-operates in His plans for the rest of her life, beginning with caring for her cousin. The thread through these readings applies also to us who read and hear them. How we expect and want things to be, may not be what God has in mind for His overall plan. What God wants of us may surprise us, but He is with us and enables us to fulfill our role and progress the coming of His kingdom, we should respond as Mary did as we prepare to celebrate the gospel events at Christmas.