Fulfilled (4th Sunday in Advent)
Preacher: Jeff Davidson Scriptures: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 Luke 1:26-38
When you watch an entire series of some TV show, or when you read an entire series of some book or other, sometimes there are events early on that kind of foreshadow or hint at things that will happen later. Often something will occur later in the series that refers back to some other event or some character from before. This even happens with movies that are all set in the same kind of cinematic universe, like the Star Wars movies or the Marvel Comics movies.
Sometimes when the series of TV shows or films comes to an end you’re not satisfied. The series may not end the way that you wanted it to, or the way the series ends may be kind of ambiguous and things aren’t wrapped up neatly for all the characters. A lot of people who watched The Good Place thought that the end of that series was really, really good. On the other hand, many people who were fans of The Sopranos thought that it’s ending was very unsatisfying. It just depends on your taste.
All of those themes, the foreshadowing of future episodes, the callback to previous episodes, and the way a series ends, can provide a framework to think about our scripture readings today.
In our Gospel reading from Luke, the archangel Gabriel appears to Mary. This isn’t the first time that Gabriel shows up in the Bible. Just before this part of Luke, Gabriel appears to Zecheriah to tell of the coming birth of his son John the Baptist. In the Old Testament, Gabriel visits the title character in the book of Daniel to help explain Daniel’s visions. Gabriel is kind of a callback to Jewish history for people who know the Jewish scriptures.
The name “Mary” is that kind of a callback too. The Greek and Hebrew version of Mary is pronounced “Miriam”, although it’s spelled differently in each language. Does that name sound familiar? It should. Miriam was the older sister of Moses, and tradition says that she’s the sister in Exodus chapter 2 who saw the baby Moses being placed in the Nile River. Miriam was a prophet, and along with Moses and their brother Aaron gets credit for helping to deliver the Israelites from Egypt.
We’ve got Gabriel, we’ve got Mary or Miriam; what other references to the history of Israel are here in our reading? One is that phrase in verse 28 that Gabriel says to Mary: “The Lord is with you!” In the book of Judges, the angel that appeared to Gideon says, “The Lord is with you.” When the Spirit of the Lord comes upon the prophet Azariah in 2 Chronicles, the prophet says to Asa, King of Judah, “The Lord is with you.” That phrase even shows up in our reading today from 2 Samuel. When David announces his plan for the temple, Nathan the prophet endorses it, saying to him, “The Lord is with you.” This history could be why Luke says that Mary “pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”
So let’s step back a minute to that 2 Samuel passage. David wants to build a temple in which to worship God. God has been traveling around with the Isrealites as they wandered in the wilderness and through the travails of the wars with King Saul and has been worshipped in a tabernacle, a temporary tent kind of thing. David wants to build something more permanent. Nathan says, “Great idea, David! The Lord is with you!” Kings and leaders always seem to have people around them saying that whatever idea they have is a great idea, even if it really isn’t.
Later God appears to Nathan and says, “Not so fast. I haven’t been living in a building for a long time now. I can get by without one for a little while longer. When have I ever said I wanted a house or a building anyway? Tell David no, instead of you building me a house I’ll build you a house. Not a house of brick and stone and cedar, but a home for my people Israel and a royal house that will endure forever.”
This looks ahead to our Gospel reading in a couple of ways. One of them, of course, is in the family heritage of Jesus. Baby Jesus is a direct descendant of King David. The new and eternal King is a part of the royal house of the first great king of Israel, just as God promised through Nathan.
The second piece of foreshadowing in God’s message to David is that part about the house. As we know, Jesus was born while his family was on the road. In a stable. In a manger. No house, not even a proper bed. It stayed that way for a while too, as later on Jesus and Mary and Joseph have to flee to Egypt to escape from King Herod. God didn’t need a house, a permanent physical home, in our reading from 2 Samuel. God in the form of Jesus doesn’t have a permanent physical home either at his birth or during his ministry.
That’s not just something that looks ahead to Jesus, though. It looks ahead to us. It looks ahead to today.
Where is the Washington City Church of the Brethren? One answer might be 337 North Carolina Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20003 at the corner of North Carolina Avenue SE and 4th Street SE. That’s where the building is. That’s where the sanctuary is. That’s where most of our income is generated as The Hill Preschool is located there. That’s where one of the most significant ministries in our history, the Brethren Nutrition Program, was located. That’s where our offices are, along with the denomination’s Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. The Washington City congregation has worshipped on that corner for over 100 years.
But you know what? I couldn’t tell you the last time I was there. I would assume sometime in March, but that’s just a guess. Some of you have been there since I last was, and some of us haven’t been there in years if ever. Still, here we are. The Washington City Church of the Brethren. Worshipping together, praying together, singing together. We make ministry decisions, we hire staff, we reach out to other people, we do the work of Jesus and have been doing it for several months without ever setting foot in 337 North Carolina Avenue SE.
God still doesn’t live in a building. God still doesn’t live in a house. Jesus still doesn’t have an earthly home. Through the Spirit, God and Jesus are with us always, wherever we are, gathered for worship or service or as individuals. Through the Spirit, God and Jesus are wherever the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, and the homeless are. God and Jesus are wherever the anxious or the depressed are. Although we don’t often think about it, God and Jesus are wherever the rich and the powerful are.
Just as God’s promise to David is fulfilled in the life and reign of Jesus Christ, God’s promise to David is fulfilled through us, through the Spirit’s presence with us today and every day. We are God’s house, you and I. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, God coming to Earth in the form of Jesus Christ, let us always remember that God is still on Earth through the presence of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and works through us. Amen.