Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 20 December 2020.
• First Reading: 2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16 (David’s proposal to build a temple for the Lord – the Lord’s promise to raise up a house for David)
• Epistle: Romans 16: 25-27 (The revelation of the mystery of hidden for long ages past but now revealed, so that the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith)
• Gospel: Luke 1: 26-38 (The annunciation to Mary. You will conceive, he will be great and will be called the Son of God)
I think that we have all been tricked at one time or another, and have been made to look and feel foolish. We may have lost money or have been emotionally abused and left distrustful as a result.
There is something about the free gift that can leave us unsure of it – what is the real cost, what is the hidden agenda? Just how reliable are the promises and blandishments of the person making the proposal to us, especially if we do not know him or her?
But then we are eventually presented with the promises of God and it makes us ask, well, just how much are we willing to trust God? Just how much will we commit to Him in terms of time and money and effort and plain loyalty, especially when times are difficult.
And this is part of the thought behind our lessons today.
First there is King David, taken by the Lord from the shepherd’s flocks at Bethlehem to lead the armies of Israel against the Philistines. Then expelled from King Saul’s court (well, he had to make a hasty exit in peril of his life).
Finally, after many campaigns he became king of Judah and then Israel as well. Now at rest, his heart wonders about building a house for the Lord.
And so God said to King David, this task is not for you, but rather than you build Me a house, I will raise up a house for you. The lineage and descent from David would lead to a king of a wholly new order of significance and authority.
The kingdom would have no limit in time or on the face of the earth. And so King David received the promise of God gratefully and humbly.
It did not deliver him from temptation – the entanglement with Bath Sheba comes 4 chapters further on, and the revolt of Absalom is told from ch15.
But God had made a promise to David and it was never going to be broken, for when God speaks, things change.
Then there is God’s proposal to Mary, a devout girl of marriageable age in Galilee.
This time the word came from an angel – or rather THE Angel Gabriel, messenger of The Lord.
First, she is greeted with words of great honour and respect as she is hailed and assured of her favour in the sight of God.
Then she is reassured: this is not a joke but deadly serious. God is not playing games.
Next comes the proposal: to be the mother of the Lord’s anointed, specifically the Son of the Most High, who would inherit the throne of her forebear King David. Nothing small or trivial here.
Not for Her, not for God or the baby she would carry, or for the world thereafter.
And her question, ‘How?’ is respected and answered directly. This pregnancy would be a work of God the Holy Spirit, and of Him alone.
And so Mary said ‘Yes’. It was to be an open-ended ‘Yes’ and it would mark the rest of her life. It would lead her to unbelievable exultation and into unspeakable sorrow. After the name ‘Jesus’, the name ‘Mary’ or ‘Miriam’ would be known across the earth.
It is Paul who gives us the sense of the long term commitment that God looks to endow us and which He seeks from us.
In concluding his letter to the church in Rome, Paul expresses his total confidence in the provision of God for His people.
First of all, it is the Lord who establishes His people. He sets them on a foundation that is unshakeable for it is founded on His word and His promises. That is what the gospel is.
What is founded on that gospel message cannot be overthrown – even when human arguments and strategies are devised to undermine confidence in the foundation itself.
As the people rely on that gospel message then they will stand firm, despite all assaults.
But then there is something else for the very gospel message is a revealing of a mystery. The world may be used to a system of exchange, of mutual obligations and trade.
But this was something wholly new – an unearned and unearnable blessing which can only be received but which itself will lead its followers into a new kind of being and belonging.
Finally, there is that sense in which God Himself is also glorified by the renewal of His creation and of humanity as its pinnacle. What had been distorted and perverted by rebellion and false promises would be restored to a new kind of wonder and exultation.
The enemy which had so undermined the purposes of God would be finally crushed and the humanity that had been turned against God would be restored and reunited with Him.
The promise of that restoration would be fulfilled by God Himself as He took on Himself the fullness of the human form and life and the burden of the work of atonement.
In its way the church is part of the purposes of God, determined at creation in which He made a promise to Himself – and this is a promise that would never be forsaken.