Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 24 December 2017.
One aspect of Christmas is the gifts that are given – and perhaps how they are presented. And this is an area fraught with surprises, some more welcome than others.
The carefully selected gift, lovingly wrapped can indeed be an exercise in love and insight – or it can be as glorious as a flat soufle.
Strange gifts indeed can come in strange forms, leading to delight or dismay. But then what about the gifts that promise something for the future? The cheque that has to be cashed, the book token that has to be presented or the gift voucher that has to be redeemed? These gifts also make demands on the receiver – to act, or to take an action to receive it.
And then we come to today’s lessons which are both about gifts and promises.
For King David, his plan to build a temple was received kindly but no, David was not the man to do it. He had been in too many wars and had spilt too much blood. Even when the wars were justified, David was not the man to build the Lord’s temple – even if he prepared the way for his son Solomon to do it.
But God said something else to David: ‘You are not the man to build me a house, but I will give you a house instead.’ God would give David a heritage that would last to eternity, and even the Messiah of Israel would also be known as the ‘Son of David’.
David could not have imagined what this would really mean. He could not have peered into the future to discern how the faith of his fathers would develop, how his city of Jerusalem would be known and how it would be abused.
But David’s vision of a temple would be transformed into a people of God. ‘Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?’ asked Paul the Christians in Corinth. The church would also be the temple of God indwelt by His Spirit and in which all members are to be living stones.
In that sense, you also are the temple of the Lord and as such you are also part of the fulfilment of God’s promise to David.
As you see it was a promise that would extend across the globe and into all peoples and lands and cultures.
And yet this was a promise to David, who had kept close to God, in the face of many challenges and assaults.
But then there is Mary, herself of the line of David (as was her husband, Joseph, but of a different line of descent).
Mary, by this time living in relative obscurity in Galilee of the Gentiles, an area of commerce with the surrounding tribes and cities, and not thought to be especially close to the rigid application of the law as known to the Pharisees.
Yet Mary was involved in something even more intimate and demanding than God’s promise to David.
Mary would not only carry the Messiah, the dedicated Son of David, long prophesied and hoped for. But she would also bond with Him uniquely – offering Him her soul and heart as she fulfilled her motherhood to Him.
It was not only Mary’s body that would be engaged – as if she were some form of surrogate – but her heart and soul would be committed for the rest of her life.
She would be close to Jesus in a way that no other human could be. As mother she would know His trials and sorrows, but as Lord and Saviour Jesus would know here more intimately than any other.
Mary’s commission would not just be for the 9 months of her pregnancy, or the 12 years of Jesus’ childhood, or the 30 years of hidden but growing life, or even the following 3 years of His ministry.
It would be exquisitely there as He died on the cross, as He rose again, and as He ascended to His Father.
And it would be there in ways we cannot imagine when her own days in the world were complete and she entered His presence again.
Mary’s ‘Yes’ was indeed the ‘Yes’ that would entail other ‘Yeses’. It would be assent to a promise, but more than a promise: a life and a destiny. It would be a ‘Yes’ to an eternity – and I suspect an eternity of not sitting around on a cloud, playing a harp.
It would be an eternity of commitment and service as she continued beside her Son, also attending on the more glorious things of God.
God’s promise to David was to give him a line and a heritage in which the people of God would also be the Temple of God.
His promise to Mary, would commit every aspect of her life to Jesus, and an intimacy that none can ever probe of imagine.
But God also looks into our hearts, looking for the ‘Yes’ that will let Him also make further promises, and then fill us with the power of His Spirit to enable us to enter them.
To say ‘Yes’ to God is to enter His plans, it is to engage with His cross in Jesus and it is to enter His glory in ways that we also cannot imagine, let alone plan for.
But God comes to each of us, with promises and requests – and He looks for our ‘Yes’ to which He can add His own kind of AMEN. And that AMEN is for always. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.