Thank you for the opportunity to share with you this advent service.
The lectionary readings this morning from 2 Samuel and Luke are very interesting; especially in the way that they can be connected. The key connection is the word dwell. In Samuel God comes to dwell among us in an ark and temple, in Luke he comes to dwell among in the person of Jesus.
Israel was a nomadic nation. They were always on the move constantly in danger. They had no roots, no land, and no security. What they did have was superficial and temporary. In this passage King David has finally secured for the nation of Israel land, security and wealth. It is David’s desire to offer God the same. After all an ark within which God dwelled could be stolen, as it had been in the past. David wanted to build God a house, a temple in which Yahweh could dwell.
It is interesting that we can have similar lives; constantly living in fear of financial loss, placing our hope, our roots in superficial things that can be taken away in an instant. We too seek security and ways in which we can feel rooted. It is interesting that we seek to place God as an object of our religion into our boxes, our buildings, restricting faith and religion to a specific time, a specific place, and a specific ritual. It is interesting that God should dwell in man-made structures. It is interesting that the priority is to house our God where we are (God comes to us on our terms) rather than ensuring we are where God is, among the poor and dispossessed. It is interesting in the Christmas birth narratives, that Joseph and Mary are homeless, nomadic, looking for a place to dwell for the birth of Jesus.
The Hebrew word for dwell here is the word shakan which means ‘to no longer be a nomad, to rest, reside’. It has resonance with the word abide as used in John 15 (the vine and branches passage), ‘abide in me and I will abide in you’. It has a sense that we do not go in and out, away and towards, we abide, we remain, we reside, we stay. In that there is a different kind of security and stability. Faith becomes something more than just Sunday religion or temporal belief that we seek to protect, housing God in our religious convictions, creeds or doctrine. The Luke passage about the virgin birth is an example of this point.
There is a legend that Mary was not the first young woman to whom the angel came. But she was the first one to say yes. This legend would be offensive to the Roman Catholic for upon this virgin narrative and other Marion doctrines we have the Immaculate Conception, the perpetual virginity and the bodily assumption of the virgin. In Protestant circles this offensive because the very claim of divinity for Jesus and his status as the Son of God required the literal historicity of the virgin birth stories not to mention the doctrines around sin and atonement.
Luke writing this narrative around 58-63C.E. was writing in a very specific context. Just like David, he was influenced by his context in the way he formulated his understanding of his faith and his God. The first writings we now have in our bibles came from the pen of the apostle Paul, a companion of Luke. Luke, a gentile, would have been shaped by these writings particularly as most biblical commentators agree; by Pauls view of the birth narratives which were more about adoptionism i.e. God adopted Jesus into heaven as God’s agent of salvation. Bear in mind the doctrine of the trinity was only fully formulated by the 5th century C.E.
Incorporating half of the gospel of Mark into his narrative, it was Luke’s task to show that Christianity, far from being subversive, was a natural development within a recognised and respected Jewish religious tradition. Christianity, Luke was asserting had simply grown past the Jewish limits and had become a worldwide religion. A religion that would later under the crusades justify murder and under apartheid justify racism. This is what happens when religion or faith becomes something we house, dwelling in our confounds and walls. It gets messy.
It is interesting that Christianity now understands God dwelling in fullness in the person of Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit dwelling in fullness in us as living temples.
In Luke, we have a heavenly host in the sky as a herald for all to see the arrival of the Christ child. Simeon, the old priest, announces that this child would be ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles’ as well as ‘for glory to the people of Israel’ (Lk2:32). In the genealogy of this Jesus, Luke traces the heritage not back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation (as Matthew had done), but to Adam, the father of the entire human race. This God, this faith is bigger than the temple David built to house Him in. He dwells among humanity.
This faith we celebrate is bigger than we think, broader than we think, more inclusive than we think. As Paul Tillich the theologian said, He is the very ground of being.
From 'And it was good: reflections on beginnings' by Wheaton (1983)
Are you sure you mean -
but I'm unworthy -
I couldn't anyhow -
I'd be afraid. No, no,
it's inconceivable, you can't be asking me -
I know it's a great honour
but wouldn't it upset them all,
both our families?
They're very proper you see.
Do I have to answer now?
I don't want to say no -
its what every girl hopes for
even if she won't admit it.
Bit I can't commit myself to anything
this important without turning it over
in my mind for a while
and I should ask my parents
and I should ask my -
Let me have a few days to think it over.
Sorrowfully, although he was not surprised
to have it happen again,
the angel returned to heaven.