Reading Ramblings – December 21, 2014

Date:  Fourth Sunday in Advent —December 21, 2014

Texts: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-5; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

 

Context:  The fourth and final Sunday of Advent, and the readings for the day fix our eyes firmly on the Lord as the source of all blessing.  So often we are tempted to emphasize what we do and bring to God—we bring prayer and praise, we live out lives of kindness and love to those around us.  But Scripture invariably calls us back to where our focus belongs—not on what we do but on what God does.  He is the provider of all things.  He is the one who gives always and constantly, and in comparison our meager efforts would be considered ridiculous if they weren’t so shot through with sin and pride and any number of other self-serving ends.  

 

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 — David in guilt at his own leisure and comfort seeks to build a temple to the Lord.  But the Lord corrects him.  David does not understand that this is his relationship with his God.  God gives, David receives.  God blesses, David receives.  There is nothing that David needs to offer God, and nothing David can offer God.  Rather, God continues to bless David with the promise of a never-ending kingdom, a promise continued in the birth of David’s descendant Jesus, and a promise revealed as fulfilled when Jesus is seen in glory by all creation.

 

Psalm 89:1-5 — Our praise of God is lodged firmly in the actions of God in human history.  We cannot praise God for anything aside what He has revealed to us as his work in our midst.  God’s promise to David is not merely a historical note of no interest to you and I.  Rather, we praise God’s love precisely because of his promise to David, and precisely because He fulfills that promise in the person of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Romans 16:25-27 — Paul packs a lot into his few final words to the Roman Christians—not surprising based on all he’s packed into this letter up until this point!  Paul points glory to God (v.1a, 27) on the basis that this God will strengthen Paul’s hearers in the good news of Jesus Christ, who is the revealed mystery prophesied in the Old Testament, hidden behind the veil of prophecy for centuries and now suddenly revealed in his resurrection.  What was once a prophecy to and for God’s people the Hebrews is now good news for everyone, all the nations, not as an option but by the explicit command of God.  The intention of the sharing of this good news with all the world is that faith might be given, and lives would be lived in obedience and joy in faith.  God in his wisdom has ordained this, and through the revelation of Jesus Christ God the Father receives eternal glory.  God’s purpose throughout creation and revealed history in Scripture is that He might receive the glory for the working out of the salvation of his creation.  God gives, creation receives, we rejoice, and God is glorified.

 

Luke 1:26-38— The fame of Israel’s greatest king began with God’s promises to a young shepherd boy deemed too insignificant by his father to bring before the prophet Samuel.  The most famous mother in human history is introduced simply as a young woman of marriageable age, betrothed to be married but about to have her life and that marriage and all of human history transformed with the opening words of God’s messenger, Gabriel.  “Greetings O favored one!  The Lord is with you!”

What strange favor that turns Mary’s life around and upside down.  What strange favor that brings her confusion and fear, the disapproving eye of her husband and family and townspeople.  That sees her simple life suspended by a two-year hiatus in Egypt before coming back home to raise a most unusual child.  That sees her grapple with her oldest child’s strange calling, seeking to bring him home as his ministry begins, worried about him.  What strange favor that forces her to watch her son nailed to a cross and mocked by strangers.  That forces her to watch him die, watch his body laid in a strange tomb by a strange man.  What strange favor that graces her teary eyes with his resurrected visage.

But here, in these opening verses of Luke’s account of Mary’s first peek at what lies ahead, it is simply God giving once again.  Not because of Mary’s worthiness.  Not because of her social stature or education or life experience.  A young woman of really no account except that she happens to be the one God the Father’s plan makes the mother of God the Son Incarnate.  She is greeted not with an acknowledgement of her worth, of what she brings to the situation, but simply the favor of God.

Christmas focuses us on others in giving gifts and spending time together, but our selfishness can weave its way into even these selfless acts.  While our love for the other person is real, so is our love of being recognized, of being thanked and hugged and fussed over for that perfect gift.  Uncertain about your selfishness in giving?  How does it feel to have your gift unacknowledged?  Are you hurt?  Annoyed?  Angry?  Bitter?

God gives.  Continually and always.  From the first moment of creation until the final glory of God the Son enthroned with the defeat of all his enemies, God gives.  He gives despite our rejection of him, despite our inability to find time in the day to read his Word or communicate with him in prayer.  He gives despite our irritation and frustration with his other created people, sometimes even those entrusted to us most intimately to love and care for.  He gives despite our overwhelmingly selfish natures, gives despite our inability to give back to him even a fraction of the love and honor and obedience that He is due.

As Christmas arrives, we turn our eyes to God to see the greatest and most perfect gift ever given come into the world.  Fragile. Delicate.  Miraculous.  Each day of our lives, may we seek to recognize the strange favor of our God who continues to call us his children in the waters of baptism, continues to feed us in the body and blood of his son who died because of our sin.  May we recognize our God’s strange favor in the rain that falls on the just and the unjust, the sun that rises on both our purest moments of heartfelt praise and our blackest moments of selfish sin.  The Lord is with us.  Always.  Continually.  Giving.

 

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