A sermon preached at Southminster in Boise, Idaho on December 21, 2014
2 Samuel 7:1-11
(Here’s the video we showed in worship today).
King David wanted to build a Temple for God. The Ark of the Covenant was being moved around the countryside, from town to town, but living in a tent, while King David had a beautiful home.
God tells him, through the prophet Nathan, that the building project will not be his. His son will build a Temple someday. God will have a big home. Someday. But God, at that moment, did not seem to need an upgrade.
God does tell David this: “Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house”.
He’s speaking of establishing a line, a family dynasty, of generations of descendants of King David. As you hear the infancy narratives of Jesus, you’ll notice the importance of that house. Mary was engaged to Joseph, a descendant of David, according to our passage today from Luke.
I went online and discovered there are numerous websites intended to help people determine if they are descendants of David. It still matters today.
I heard this text this week, however, in the context of Advent, in the story of Mary’s visit from the Angel, and I heard this line differently:
Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.
The Lord made Mary his house, sending his angel to ask Mary if she would be the God Bearer.
We don’t know if Gabriel actually said this to Mary, but the subtext of “greetings favored one, the Holy Spirit will come upon you” is “Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”
Mary will be the very dwelling place of God, for 9 months, and then will give birth to a child whose life will show us who God is in a way that nothing has before or since.
It is a unique feature of Christianity among world religions, to claim that God took on flesh and became one of us. And to do that, God chose a vulnerable, unwed, teenager from a backwater town to give life to God’s own son.
God chose well in Mary. I’m all about Mary. She’s no wilting flower.
Mary receives a no doubt surprising visit from the angel and she doesn’t tell him, “I’m sorry. You must have made a mistake and me confused with someone else,” which is what most of the Old Testament prophets said when God called them. The rest of the Old Testament prophets point out to God the reasons they aren’t equipped for the task. She doesn’t do that either.
She doesn’t ask for proof, as her cousin the temple priest Zechariah did, when he was told his wife Elizabeth would conceive in her old age.
She doesn’t laugh in his face, which Abraham’s wife Sara did when she found out she’d have a baby.
She just asks for more details. She may just be a teenaged kid in nowhereville, but she knows enough about the birds and bees to wonder how that’s going to work. And after hearing the rather unsettling news that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow” her, she says, “okay, bring it on.”
Or words to that effect.
While it is shocking enough that God is born to an unmarried teenaged girl, I almost find it more shocking that Mary agrees to the plan.
“Let it be with me according to your word” would NOT have been my answer, I don’t think.
How would you react to an angel’s visit?
I wonder if perhaps God was born to a teenaged girl because any older woman would have said, “are you kidding? I don’t have time for this. And do you know how much money it costs to raise a kid these days? And I’m too fat, or I have too many issues with my own mother.”
And perhaps an adult would have also said, “are you trying to ruin my reputation? Do you know what happens to pregnant single women in the middle east? Are you going to be the one to tell my fiancé?”
And I think the more political or theological minded woman would have said, “what kind of plan is this? The son of God shouldn’t be born to me—I’m poor and I don’t have the resources necessary to make sure that he grows up to be a military leader. How is he going to rise up and lead the people when nobody is going to follow someone from Nazareth? We don’t need a baby. We need a superhero. This is not a good idea.”
Perhaps it is only the bravado that comes with being a teenager that allows Mary to go along with this rather incredible plan.
I thought about Mary last week when I watched Malala Yousafsai received the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17.
Two years ago, when she promoted education for girls in defiance of the Taliban, they shot her in the head.
“I had two options — one was to remain silent and wait to be killed,” Yousafzai said. “And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.”
Her refusal to remain silent spoke volumes for young women around the world whose human rights are being violated every day.
Here’s what she said when accepting her award last week. “This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change. I am here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice. It is not time to pity them. It is time to take action so it becomes the last time that we see a child deprived of education.”
That’s a lot of courage in the body of a teenaged girl.
Hearing Malala speak out for justice gives me a sense of how and why God chose Mary to be the God bearer. We all need the courage of vulnerable people at the margins. We need their reminder that the world is not yet as it should be.
This week in the news, we heard of more shootings, more kidnappings, the murder of more children, this time in Pakistan and Nigeria. And we wonder where God is in the midst of the pain and loss.
The story of Jesus’ birth reminds us of exactly where God is—right there in the midst of it. God, by becoming one of us, and by being born to a vulnerable teenaged girl, was right there in the midst of it. At risk. Aware of pain. Hungry. God is there.
And because God became a human body, we are reminded to care about other human bodies.
Through your generosity, 19 Christmas meals were delivered to families at Grace Jordan Elementary School on Friday.
Your work to provide food, and advocating for equality, and working for mental health care all illustrate how our faith is an embodied, Immanuel, God with us, faith.
Your ministry of presence, by visiting homebound people and members in the hospital, show that it matters that we be with each other in person.
How often do we consider, though, the idea we sing of in the Christmas Carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem:
O holy child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in;
be born in us today.
Be born in us today.
Last year, Carolyn Blackhurst shared this painting with us during Advent. It is by Tim Mooney and is called Theotokos, which means God Bearer. As you can see, everyone on this train is pregnant—men, women, young, old—bearing God into the world.
How is Christ being born in us today?
How does the world know of the promises of God from the way we live our lives and share our joy?
How is the Lord making us a house, using us as a dwelling place, so our community will have a clearer sense of what it means that the “word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood”, as Eugene Peterson translates John 1:14?
We are a few short days from Christmas. In the busy-ness of this time, I pray you will leave some time for pondering. It is a sacred gift that God would choose to become human, to live among us, full of grace and truth. How is that grace and truth being born in us today? How are we bearing God into the vulnerable places of the world?
Be born in us today, we pray. Amen