Do You See What I See?
Look for Miracles
First Baptist Richmond, December 24, 2023 The Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:26-38
The angel said to her, “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.”
If I had been the chairman of the lectionary committee that chose our Gospel lesson for this morning, I couldn’t have done a better job. It’s the story of Gabriel telling Mary she’s going to have a baby, from Luke, chapter 1, and quite possibly the perfect reading when the Fourth Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve. But I don’t know how this other reading got in there, this Old Testament lesson from 2 Samuel 7. It’s not the one I would have chosen. It takes us back to a time when King David was still on the throne.
He was living in a fine palace made of cedar, but he looked out the window and saw the Ark of the Covenant—the throne of God—sitting inside a raggedy, old tent. He told the Prophet Nathan that he wanted to build God a house (meaning a temple), and Nathan said, “Go, do all that you have in mind, for the Lord is with you!” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan saying, “Go tell my servant, David: ‘Are you going to build me a house? Have I ever asked for a house? I’ve been carried from one place to another in a tent, but have I ever complained? Never! No, you’re not going to build me a house, I’m going to build you a house’” (meaning a dynasty).
And then God got specific.
Old Testament scholar Gene Tucker says this seventh chapter of 2 Samuel contains the fullest narrative account of the covenant God makes with David, and if you were an ancient Jew, praying for the coming of the Messiah, this might be your favorite chapter in the entire Bible. Tucker says, “Several features are noteworthy”:
§ In verse 8 God reminds David of his humble origins as a shepherd. He says, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel.”
§ In verse 9 David is reminded of his conquest over his enemies. “And I have been with you wherever you went, and cut off your enemies from before you, and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.”
§ In verse 10 David is reminded that his success and greatness will be shared with the entire nation. “And 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.”
§ In verse 16 God promises David that his dynasty will be everlasting. “The LORD declares to you that…your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”
§ And finally, Verse 14 is not included in today’s reading, but in that verse David is promised that his son will also be God’s son. Looking toward the future God says, “I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me.”
Tucker says, “2 Samuel 7:1-17, thus forms the locus classicus for the expectation of the eternal rulership of the house of David and is the fountainhead for all messianic hopes about the revival of David’s rule after the fall of Jerusalem in 586
B.C. As part of the readings for the Advent Season, it looks forward to the One who is the David to come.”i
John Hayes, an expert on the psalms, says that the one chosen for today, Psalm 89, “offers the fullest exposition in the Old Testament of the divine covenant with David and the promises this covenant involved.” I won’t read the entire psalm, but listen to verses 3 and 4 as a sample: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one [says the Lord], I have sworn to my servant David: ‘I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.’”ii
I know this is a lot to take in, but it’s important. It helps us understand that long before the Angel Gabriel came to see Mary, the nation of Israel was pregnant with messianic expectation. The last of the Davidic kings had died out during the exile in Babylon. Some people said that David’s family tree had been cut down and could never be restored. But the prophet Isaiah held out the hope that one day, when the time was right, a shoot would come up from the stump of Jesse, a son of David who would usher in God’s eternal kingdom (Isa. 11:1). The people began to watch and wait for that day. But by the end of the Exile it still hadn’t come, and when the people returned to Jerusalem they still didn’t have a king.
So, they did what they could. They rebuilt the temple and the city walls. They cleared the cobwebs from the palace and swept the dust from the throne. They thought, “Someday, when the time is right, God will remember his covenant with David, and put one of his descendants on the throne. Someday, a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse.” I’ve heard it said that in those days little girls were taught that if they were good, and if they did everything they were told, then one day they might get to be the mother of the Messiah.
That’s how I think of Mary, growing up in Nazareth, bringing buckets of
water from the well in the center of town; taking the clothes off the line, folding them, and putting them away; washing the dishes after supper and hearing her mother say, “Now remember, when you say your prayers, pray that the Almighty will let you be the mother of his Messiah.” And I don’t know: maybe Mary did say that prayer. Maybe every young woman in Israel said it. But that doesn’t mean she expected it to be answered.
I picture her kneeling by the bed, saying all her usual prayers for friends and family, and then, right at the end, saying, “Oh yes, and if it be your will: let me be the mother of the Messiah.” And then opening her eyes to see the Angel Gabriel standing there, smiling, with his wings moving slowly back and forth. You could have knocked her over with a feather. But Gabriel said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” And now Mary was not only afraid, but also confused. What kind of greeting was this? What could it possibly mean? And so Gabriel got right to the point. He said, “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.” Again, that’s a lot to take in, so let me point out a few salient features of this announcement.
1. Mary had found favor with God. We don’t know why. Maybe she was simply the best among all the good little girls in Israel. But for whatever reason we are meant to assume that God had considered every conceivable option (see what I did there?) and finally settled on this one, Mary, who was not a member of the royal household but simply a peasant girl living in the hills of Galilee.
2. Gabriel told her that she would conceive in her womb and bear a son, and that she should name him Jesus. He didn’t say how she would conceive. She may have assumed at this point that it would happen in the usual way. But the name Jesus is significant. In Matthew’s version of this story the angel explains, “For he will save his people from their sins.”
3. Gabriel says, “He will be great, and he will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” And that may be the thing that got Mary’s attention. To say that this child would sit on the throne of his ancestor David was to say that this child would, in fact, be the Messiah. Of course he would be great! Of course he would be called the Son of the Most High! If what the angel was telling her was true this child would be the one Israel had been waiting for since the Babylonian exile.
4. And finally Gabriel said, “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” This promise is essentially the same promise God made to David: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”
So, what’s a girl to say after getting news like that? Mary sat there in silence, taking it in, but eventually her brow furrowed, her hand went up, and Gabriel said, “Yes?” “All this sounds wonderful,” Mary said, “but I’m a virgin. I’ve never been with a man. How am I supposed to have a baby?” And Gabriel said, “Not to worry, my dear. 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 called holy; he will be called Son of God.”
And if all that sounds like a little too much to believe—it is. Gabriel knows
it. No sooner has he said it than he offers Mary some additional proof. “Your relative Elizabeth,” he said, “the one everybody said was too old to have a baby, the one everybody said was barren, well, guess what? She’s six months pregnant! That’s just the way it is with God; things that seem impossible are possible; nothing is too hard for the Lord.” There was another long pause as Mary took all this in, as she tried to imagine what it would mean for her to become pregnant before she was even married. She thought about what her friends and family would say. But then she remembered how her mother had urged her, earlier that same evening, to pray that she might be the mother of the Messiah. Wasn’t this an answer to that prayer? “Yes!” Mary said, looking up at the angel. “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And before she could change her mind:
The angel departed from her.
You know that story. You’ve heard it every Christmas since you were a child. There are no real surprises in it. But there are at least three truths that bear repeating.
1. God is not in a hurry. This is frustrating for us as humans. We seem to want everything and we want it right now, but when you dwell in eternity as God does you never hear the sound of a ticking clock. You can take all the time in the world. And often, apparently, you do.
2. God keeps his promises. He had told David a thousand years earlier, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever,” and now here he was keeping that promise, restoring that lost kingdom, raising up a Son of David who would set his people free.
3. Nothing is impossible for God. No matter how broken the world might be, no matter how hopeless your own circumstances may appear, nothing is impossible for God.
Fred Craddock writes, “This is the creed behind all other creeds. The church should recite it often, not only at the manger, not only at the empty tomb, but on any occasion of reflecting on its own life, joy, and hope.”iii
And so, like Mary, let us bow before the miracle and say,
“Let it be.”
—Jim Somerville © 2023