Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 24 December 2023.
• First Reading: 2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16 (‘Your house and your kingdom will endure for ever before Me; your throne will be established forever’)
• Epistle: Romans 16: 25-27 (The mystery hidden for ages but now revealed … so that the gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith)
• Gospel: Luke 1: 26-38 (The birth of Jesus foretold. Mary’s acceptance)
It used to be a common complaint that when something was wrong, inconvenient or uncomfortable, then ‘There should be a law against it.’ It did not really matter what it was, but there should be policeman to stop it.
Now, we hear less of this, perhaps because we already have an awful lot of laws and neither the police nor the procurators fiscal can handle all the complaints. Even they have to choose the matters to take up and decide which item is in the public interest to prosecute.
But the sense that whatever is wrong, then there should be someone to put it right is still with us. Have-a-go heroism is now discouraged, and even the police have been known to stand by and watch for fear of getting too involved or in case of health and safety restrictions.
But then we have in our lessons a very different approach.
All of them are centred on God’s plans and God’s provision but they are also intimate in involving ordinary people.
First, in God’s response to King David’s plan to build a temple, He says, thanks for the offer but no, you are not the man to do it.
Instead however the Lord will establish for you a house – a family descent from which the salvation of Israel and of the world will come. Your name will be remembered for ever, your kingdom will endure forever, and your throne will be established forever. The shepherd from Bethlehem would be known worldwide.
God’s promise to David would endure down the generations, being manifested in different ways, but always the same promise.
Israel would not escape punishment for disobedience and neglect of the Lord, and she would suffer exile, but never extermination. She would be corrected but not abandoned. She would learn from her trials but her devotion to the Lord would echo down the millennia in the words of the prophets, the psalms and later, in the words of Jesus.
But God’s promise was never going to be abrogated or set aside, even in the face of disobedience in one generation or another.
But then in the gospel, we have Mary’s assent to God’s invitation to bear a son, wholly of God’s conception.
She was young but devout, living in Galilee of the Gentiles. This was a northern town, far from the devout and perhaps inward-looking religious centres of Jerusalem, where people might debate long and hard on the finer points of the law.
Nazareth was an agricultural area, close to the northern borders of Israel and a place where there were many foreigners, traders, visitors, not to mention armies going back and forth along the Vale of Jezreel.
Nazareth itself was almost opposite King Solomon’s fortress at the Mount of Megiddo, also known as Har Megiddon. We know the name well enough, as Armageddon, but that is another matter.
And so Mary agreed to be the human end of the beginning of God’s plan of salvation for the whole of humanity. But it had to start somewhere, and the man sent by God would also be the man conceived by God.
He would not just be an Anyman, inspired by God. He would be wholly of God: begotten, but not made or created. God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God.
One in spirit with the Father, one in flesh with His mother.
Mary was called to be intimate with the plans of God so far as her body would allow, but without being their fulfillment which would demand the flesh of her Son, and reaching into dimensions that she could not even imagine.
Far from delegating the task to another or refusing God altogether, Mary would for a time be the centre of God’s plans.
And then she would have to let go: of her Son as He went into His ministry and on to the cross.
But Mary’s ‘Yes’ was direct and personal. And she would stay with it.
God’s plans for both David and Mary were and are plans for every subsequent generation of humanity. They reach out to all of us, and all of us are involved.
This is where Paul’s final remarks to the church in Rome come in: for God who is able to establish them – in every generation – in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ – to Him be glory forever.
May God be glorified in every generation of the church, and therefore may the Body of Christ also be wholly committed above all else to the same gospel message and truths.
May the church continue to abide in that message, and may it be the centre of who and what its members are.
Yes, it is a mystery: a revealing of things long hidden and long unsuspected. Never penetrated by the wise and learned – but yet received by the simple and true of heart in every land and generation.
It is the kind of faith that starts as simply as Mary’s – and then grows and matures. May we also be the servants of the Lord.