We are one week away from Christmas day, which means I am in the midst of one of my busiest weeks of the year. Tomorrow night, December 19th, we will host our annual "Blue Christmas" service, a night where anyone who finds their celebration of the holidays restrained by grief, depression, illness, abuse, or by any other cause can name this trouble in a safe space and lift prayers to the Lord. Then, on the evening of December 24th, we will have our annual Christmas Eve children's program at 7:00 pm and our annual Christmas Eve candlelight service at 11:00 pm.
But, on the morning of December 24th, we will not jump to our Christmas Eve celebration. Instead, we will complete the Advent season with the readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent, which you can find below. After each reading, I will add in italics my first thoughts/responses to the readings. I invite you to share your comments, questions, and responses in the comment section below.
2 Samuel 7:1 - 11, 16
1Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” 3Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”
4But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, 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?” 8Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 16Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
David has recently been established as the King of Israel. He has a palace for his family, where he can rule over the nation. But he is disturbed that his house is greater than the Lord’s house, the Tabernacle, which is a grand tent. The Lord declines David’s offer to build a temple, a grand house, for the Lord. (Side note for the curious: David reveals to Solomon the Lord’s reason behind this refusal in 1 Chronicles 22:7 – 10). Instead, the Lord declares that the Lord will build up David’s house, meaning his family dynasty as King. The Lord will also firmly establish the nation of Israel in their homeland. In the missing verses, the Lord promises David that David’s son will be the one to build the Lord’s house; this becomes one of Solomon’s tasks after he becomes king. The final verse, promising that David’s “house,” kingdom, and throne will be established forever, reminds us that Jesus is a member of David’s “house” and that Jesus continues to reign as King on the throne established by the Lord.
Luke 1:46b - 55
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Luke 1:46b – 55 is the famous “Magnificat” or “Mary’s Song.” Mary responds to the revelation of the angel (our gospel reading later) and the confirmation from her cousin, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s unborn son, John (the portion in between the two readings), by singing a song describing the Lord turning the socio-political world upside down. The great ones of society will be humbled, and the lowly ones of society will be lifted up. The Lord’s actions will fulfill the promises given to Israel over the generations/centuries. Are the promises fulfilled at Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ resurrection, or Jesus’ return at the end of the age? For me, the answer is “Yes.” The fulfillment of these promises is not complete until the end of the age, but the promises were fulfilled at each of these events, and the promises are being fulfilled now, today!
Romans 16:25 - 27
25Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—27to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
This is Paul signing off at the end of his letter to the Romans. The key phrases are “the revelation of the mystery” and that this mystery “is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles…” This mystery includes the identity of the Lord and what we proclaim as “the mystery of faith”: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
Luke 1:26 - 38
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He 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. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “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. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
In Advent, we have worked backwards from the Second Arrival of Christ to now the proclamation of Jesus’ First Arrival (i.e. Jesus’ Birth). Most Christians have heard this story many times and may not listen closely. But there is a particular detail that draws us in. “… 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.” The promise in 2 Samuel was that David’s house and throne would be established forever. But the angel declares that Jesus will establish not just the house of David but the house of Jacob, who was also known as Israel. All of the descendants of Jacob are regarded as the house of Israel, and Paul declares that the Gentiles have been grafted into the house of Israel. Therefore, Jesus reigns over all of the Lord’s people, no matter how they have entered into the “house” or the family.