4th Sunday Advent 12-24-17
I raised my children in a small town in upstate New York. The town promotes itself as “historic”, meaning that history is about all that’s left – no industry, and only a few stores. When my middle son finished high school, a job as a janitor at the elementary school opened, and he saw that as his only chance for a steady job with benefits. But God had not made this young man to be a janitor. Not that I have anything but respect and admiration for school janitors, but it wasn’t the right job for him. And that Christmas, my cousin gave him a miracle in the form of a Radio Shack TSR-80 home computer. My son was re-born as a highly respected “IT guy”.
Our first reading today is about King David. One day, King David had a chance to take a breath from the large military campaigns which had made Israel safe from hostile neighbors. David realized he was living in a “cedar palace” while the Ark of the Covenant and the place where the nation worshiped God was still in a tent, just as it had been since his ancestors fled Egypt. He began to make plans to build a house for God. But God had not meant David to be a house builder. Not that God has anything but respect and admiration for builders, but that wasn’t the right job for David.
So God would take care of the building, by having one of David’s sons- Solomon- build a magnificent Temple. God had another role for David. It would be another sort of “house”. My own father still used the term “house” to describe his lineage, his ancestors. God’s gift to King David was to be the beginning of long line of Kings, what we might call a “dynasty”, a traceable line of names and history, leading to the long-awaited Messiah, the savior of God’s people. Matthew’s Gospel spells out those 28 generations from David to Jesus to make the point clear.
The other problem with David building a “house” or temple for God was that David had missed an important lesson about his relationship with God. David was thinking like a King who built loyalty with his staff and soldiers was by rewarding them with power and prestige. God had no use for David’s rewards. God reminds David that when the prophet Samuel anointed David as King, David was a young man who spent his days guarding sheep. God had made David a King who guarded God’s people. God was the reason for David’s military success. God was the reason that Israel was enjoying peace. God had been with David in every circumstance, in every location, in the fields and in the palace. God is greater than any building; God is not defined by space or décor, by canvas or cedar. Buildings weather and decay, but God’s blessings are eternal.
The Psalms, many of which were traditionally attributed to David, stress one of the other themes which build during Advent: the promises of God, specifically the fulfillment of God’s promises. Thru the centuries, those promises remain alive and, in God’s time, they are fulfilled and renewed. Today’s Psalm says, “I will sing forever of the promises of the Lord…my mouth will proclaim (God’s) faithfulness.” (God) had made a covenant with…(David)..(God) will …establish David’s throne for all generations.” The House of David remains with us today as Jesus our Lord and Savior.
The 2nd reading, from the Letter to the Church at Rome, frames this idea differently. King David most likely thought of God’s promise of his dynasty, his lineage, in terms of an earthly throne. The full implications were not known to him. The Gospel of Jesus that Paul had been preaching is referred to here as a “mystery.” Saint Paul lived in a time when people were just beginning to sort out the message and full implications of the birth of Jesus, his life and teaching, his crucifixion and resurrection. Believers were starting to made sense of how those promises had been fulfilled. The mystery of God’s promises continues to open to each new generation and each new believer as they consider their own lives and their own relationship to God. We find that we are part of the promise – we live in a particular part of the revelation of the mystery. We have been woven into the very fiber of the building of the Kingdom.
The angel Gabriel brought to Mary a mystery that at first was troubling, even the cause of fear. It was a mystery that the child could be divine, yet born as a human child. The child she would conceive by the power of God and the Holy Spirit will be given the “throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary’s child fulfilled the promise to King David.
Neither King David, nor St. Paul, nor Mary expected God to fulfill the promise in the way that it actually happened. They each had their own expectations. Yet each of them willingly moved forward in faith and trust. They struggled against fear and opposition, against seemingly unconquerable difficulties and, yes, danger…in the full knowledge that God was with them and that God’s plan, however mysterious or obscure, was best. They were able to do that because they knew God kept his promises.
Christmas is a time of miracles and joy. Now we will once again experience the thrill of the gift of this ancient promise. Even 2000+ years after the historical event, even before we fully grasp the how and where and why, we feel the thrill of something that changes our lives in that tiny child. King David and St. Paul and the Blessed Virgin Mary all chose to open their hearts, and their lives, to the mystery – to be personally part of a great miracle of love for every human being who has lived or will live. As we move from Advent to Christmas, we enter a time when past, present and future come together.