Sermon, Dec. 24, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16; Canticle 3; Romans 16.25-27; Luke 1.26-38


“See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent” (2 Samuel 7.2; NRSV). King David recognized the goodness of God, the blessings he had received – a beautiful palace and peace – and unlike so many, he sought an appropriate expression of gratitude. Nathan tells David to “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you” (2 Samuel 7.3; NRSV). But as the story unfolds, we see God had other things in mind. In the night, God told Nathan to convey a message to David: “Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” To paraphrase further, “In all the time I have been with Israel, I have lived in a tent and a tabernacle. Have I ever asked, ‘Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?’ I took you from a lowly life, and made you a prince. I will make a great name for you. You are not to build me a house – to the contrary, I will make you a house. The verses omitted from today’s reading foretell the birth of Solomon and his building of the temple. The Lord further tells David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7.16; NRSV).

Now we fast forward a few centuries. Our reading from The Gospel of Luke begins with a reference to the house of David: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 126-27; NRSV). The annunciation follows; Gabriel said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1.28; NRSV). Mary was perplexed; she pondered the meaning of these words. She was probably no older than thirteen or fourteen – it’s no wonder she was perplexed. Gabriel continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with 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” (Luke 1.30-33; NRSV).

Mary responded, “How can this be, since I am a virgin” (Luke 1.34; NRSV). As you may recall, Gabriel previously appeared before Elizabeth and Zachariah and foretold that Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son who was to be named John. Zachariah objected, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years” (Luke 1.18; NRSV). Gabriel told Zachariah, “Because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur” (Luke 1. 20; NRSV). Unlike Zachariah, Mary believed, but she sought an explanation – “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel replied, “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. And 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. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1.35-37; NRSV). And Mary responded with these beautiful words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1.38; NRSV).

Well, I don’t know about you, but I think we are still left with a divine mystery. How did the Holy Spirit come upon her? How was she overshadowed by the presence of the Most High? We don’t know. Many feel this is grounds for denying the veracity of the virgin birth. Suffice it to say, if we believe in God the creator, in the creation of the universe ex nihilo, effecting a pregnancy when fifty percent of the material is already present is a rather small matter in comparison…”nothing will be impossible with God.”

St. Paul, in his letter to the Church of Rome, alludes to the mystery: “Now 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 but 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– to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 16.25-27; NRSV).

Thus, we see the intricate connections among these passages – the promise set forth in 2 Samuel, the annunciation of the Incarnation which became the fulfillment of that promise in Luke, and an acknowledgment of the mystery of the Incarnation in Romans. To these we add Mary’s song of praise in the Magnificat. In these scriptures, we hear the echoes of God’s word across the ages and we see the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. Indeed, this is something to celebrate, for God has chosen to pitch his tent and dwell among us in human flesh. The only thing which eclipses this is the Resurrection, but as we know, we cannot really celebrate one without the other.

But there is more to consider: What are the implications of these passages for our own lives? In what ways can the beauty of the Incarnation transform our existence? What in this story challenges us?        First, we are called to participate in the Incarnation. If we permit, Christ comes to live in us, but we must be willing to say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word!” These words reflect one’s humble submission and dedication to Christ our Savior. Like Mary, we can participate in the fulfillment of God’s word, and when we do so, we will sing with Mary, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;  for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant” (Luke 1.46-48a; NRSV).

Second, there are several instances of annunciation in the scriptures. These stories share many features: a greeting, a startled reaction which typically reflects fear, an exhortation (“Do not be afraid…”), a divine commission, an objection (“Not I, Lord”), a reassurance, and confirmation. (Mark Allen Powell; ). Think of God’s call to Moses and Isaiah. The annunciations come from the messengers of God – sometimes human, sometimes angelic. As Christ’s disciples, we have received this call, for we have been commissioned to preach the good news: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28.19-20; NRSV). Note the commission and the reassurance in these verses – “Go therefore … I am with you always…” It is a privilege to be so called. As Isaiah says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (52.7; NRSV).

Last, perhaps you are thinking, I could never be like Mary or the disciples, or you might be thinking, one must be nearing a state of perfection to say, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Let me assure you, this is not the case. The disciples certainly were not perfect, yet Jesus took them where they were and set about the slow work of transformation. Remember some of them were fishermen, and even though they sailed freshwater, I suspect they were rather salty! Yet Jesus saw them as diamonds in the rough; he began the slow and painful process of faceting and polishing. In their lives we see what we can become. Jesus gave us a great gift – the greatest gift of all. The greatest gift we can give in return is the gift of our self, even if it is a bit flawed and tarnished. Trust God to do the rest.


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