Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year B - December 24, 2023

Advent 4 Luke Samuel Romans Psalm 89

Advent 4 invites us to respond to the wonder and mystery of God and to acknowledge his plans for us. In 2 Samuel, God overwhelms David with the promise of an eternal kingdom to David’s heir. Paul in Romans proclaims that in Jesus Christ the mystery of the ages is revealed. Luke’s account of Mary open her spirit, soul and spirit to the mystery and word of God.

Whose agenda are you following? Your own agenda or God’s agenda? Whose will are you doing? Your own will or God’s will? Whose kingdom are you building up? Your own kingdom or God’s kingdom? It is clear they were following God

Mary was certainly not following her own agenda or doing her own will or building her own kingdom when she said ‘Yes’ to the angel Gabriel to become the mother of Jesus; “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Think of the consequences it could have had for her. She could have been stoned to death according to the law of that time (Deut 22:20-21). For that reason Mary knew that from the human point of view she may not even be able to bring her pregnancy to its full term but she had faith to believe that what is impossible for us is possible for God. And so with that faith she said “yes.” She surrendered into the hands of God, and it really was surrendering because she did not know what the consequences would be. But she had faith to believe that no matter what difficulties would follow, God would provide a way out and a remedy. Mary’s final words to the angel are a model for each of us, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) And because Mary surrendered to God, Jesus came.

Mary shows us how to be a follower of Jesus, making a loving surrender into the hands of God who loves us. Surrendering to God, making that act of trust or abandonment into the hands of God, is not easy. It means letting go and like Mary facing into the unknown and the unknown scares us

Long before Jesus was born, his birth was promised in many and various ways. One of those promises was made by God through the prophet Nathan to King David in Samuel. David wanted to build God a temple but relented so his successor could do so. God then provided David with a lineage that pointed all the way down to Jesus. The Psalm this week contrasts the might and faithfulness of God, in particular as manifested in the covenant made with David, to the psalmist's present experience of utter national ruin and defeat.

Paul takes up the plan of God in Romans. God plan for all mankind was known only to God, until the time when He chose to reveal it to man. It was a mystery from the time of its conception in eternity past to the time of creation. The mystery is now proclaimed as accomplished in Christ, through the preaching of the gospel. This gospel, proclaimed by Paul and others, is preached to both Jews and Gentiles. That the Gentiles would be offered salvation in Christ is a part of the mystery which was revealed. The goal of the gospel is the obedience which originates from faith.


The Annonciation - Fra Angelico (1395-1455)

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Luke is the only gospel that links the lives of John and Jesus in such an intimate way, identifying Elizabeth and Mary as relatives (1:36). Elizabeth gives birth to John in her old age; Mary gives birth to Jesus in her youth. Elizabeth gives birth to John six months before the birth of Jesus to Mary.

The Vision of Mary is the second of six episodes covering the dawn of the messianic age, 1:5-2:40. The central element of the vision is the announcement that the child to be conceived in Mary will be no normal child. He is the heir to David's throne and will take the royal title, "Son of the Most High", cf. Ps.2:7, 89:26f, and "Son of God." These titles describe his unique messianic authority.

Luke sets the story amid the cries of the Jewish people for liberation from Rome’s oppression, Rome’s forced ‘peace’. In Isaiah 7:14, ‘A young woman shall conceive and bear a son and you shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us’, Isaiah in his day offered a sign of deliverance for Judah from the threatening alliance of its northern compatriots of Israel with the Syrians. Here the sign has been recycled to point to coming liberation from the Romans.

Luke’s infancy narrative show that the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was already implicit in the events of the conception and birth. The divine origin of Jesus earthly history is confirmed. As with Mary so the life of God is conceived and nurtured in each of us. But is happens through God’s power and not our own

In Jesus, the fulfillment of the ages has come. The Messiah, so longed for in the history of God's people, brings together the reign of David and the promise of life to the family of Jacob/Israel. Thus it is no wonder that Mary responds: "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (1:34).

The following are "reflections" from Cullpepper (Luke, New Interpreters Bible"):

1. Mary had been chosen, "favored" by God. But what a strange blessing. It brought with it none of the ideals or goals that so consume our daily striving. Today many assume that those whom God favors will enjoy the things we equate with a good life: social standing, wealth, and good health. Yet Mary, God's favored one, was blessed with having a child out of wedlock who would later be executed as a criminal. Acceptability, prosperity, and comfort have never been the essence of God's blessing. The story is so familiar that we let its familiarity mask its scandal.

2. If Mary embodies the scandal, she also exemplifies the obedience that should flow from blessing. Mary was favored and would bear a king, but only if she gave herself obediently in response to God's call. The greatest blessings are bound up in the fellowship God shares with us. They are not rewards separate from that fellowship. Perhaps it would inject more realism into our Advent celebrations if we recognized that the glory of Christmas came about by the willingness of ordinary people to obey God's claim on their lives.

3. The ultimate scandal is that God would enter human life with all its depravity, violence, and corruption. Therefore, the annunciation ultimately is an announcement of hope for humankind. God has not abandoned us to the consequences of our own sinfulness. Rather, God has sent Jesus as our deliverer. There is another way, a commonwealth under Jesus' Lordship that is without end.

Like Mary, we stand under God's favor. His plan for our life entails promises which affect, not just our life in these present shadows, but life in the brilliance of eternity.


2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you."

But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

David’s covenant came to be understood as God’s assurance of a future ideal king from David’s line and this hope became an essential part of the Jewish expectation of the Messiah

2 Samuel 7:1-11 provides a footing for understanding the idea of the royal Davidic house and the promise in 2 Samuel 7:16, that this house and throne are established forever. In light of the historical fall of the Davidic dynasty upon the demise of Jehoiachin and Zedekiah at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and in line with the Gospel writers, Christians traditionally and theologically understand Jesus as taking up this royal line.

Abuses of monarchical power and authority that mark the reign of David, Solomon, and those that follow them, while not provoking a revocation of this divine promise, do mark the reign of Davidic kings with episodes of amnesia about the fact that the house was established by the Lord and for the Lord's people. The Lord remains faithful, the dynasty not so much

This Sunday is traditionally designated as one on which the Gospel focuses on Mary, hence the shift. In the annunciation the connection between Jesus and the house of King David is alluded to (Lk 1:27, 32)

What is evident in this text is probably part of a very old debate in Israel over the nature of religious symbolism, especially the temple, and its connection to the power structures in human society.

In the course of time, those pushing for a temple won the day. Solomon, David’s son, is recorded as building it for Yahweh.

As we approach Christmas we think of ‘incarnation’, God present in Jesus. But incarnation involves a lot more than God just being present in one human being. Through that one human life God becomes embroiled in the whole of human culture, history and society. How much does that restrict God being who God is? That is the question at stake in 2 Samuel 7.

In the Lord’s speech in vv. 5-11, there is a claim for God’s ‘freedom’ with his people. It was that freedom that led them through the wilderness to the promised land, and much later in Israel’s story it will be that freedom that will lead the people out of exile (see the reading for Advent 2, Isa. 40:1-11). But we also see in vv. 12-15, that the Lord does commit himself to David’s house. The Lord treads a fine line in his affairs with humankind and creation.

David wanted to build God a house (i.e., Temple) in which to dwell. But, through the prophet, God proposed to build David a "royal house" (i.e., a dynasty) that would forever enjoy divine favor. Notice YHWH asserts his dominance and initiative as he speaks. He took David from the fields and made him king. He would care for him in life and give him honor after death. This was not a reward for David's loyalty but a vehicle for the divine will. Through the covenant he offered David, God revealed his intentions and his nature. He was a loving, even doting God.

As Christians, we see the fulfillment of God's covenant with David in Jesus. Why? Because he was a "Son of David" not only in his lineage, but in his revelation. The mission and ministry of Jesus revealed God as that loving deity David enjoyed. But, now, we enjoy the loving initiative David enjoyed so long ago.

God declared David "his son." Through Christ, we are sons and daughters of God. How have you enjoyed God's favor this week? How can you show others they, too, are children of the Almighty?

But the greatest promise of all is that a very special “son” will come, who is a descendant of David, and His kingdom will be eternal. It is in this “Son” that all of David's hopes, all of Israel's hopes, all of our hopes are fulfilled. And this is the essence of the Davidic Covenant. God will give David sons who rule in his place, but God's promises will be fully and finally fulfilled in that special “Son” who is yet to come.


Roman Road

Romans 16:25-27

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Paul’s intention throughout this epistle has been to carefully expound the truth of the gospel and to explain its practical implications and obligations. Early in the epistle he alluded to those who would encourage others to live in a way that offends the righteousness of God

The emphasis is Godward, not manward. God is the One from whom all blessings originate. He is the One through whom all blessings flow. He is the one to whom all blessing and praise should be directed

Of the content he says:

[i] It is the "proclamation of Jesus Christ" - who Jesus is and what he has done. This gospel, focused on the life and teachings of Jesus, is preached, proclaimed, by the apostles.

[ii] It is God's revelation.

[iii] It is a mystery. It is a truth hidden, but now revealed.

The good news that Paul makes known, the proclamation about Jesus Christ is the “revelation of the mystery” V25 for God’s plan of salvation not only for Jews but also Gentiles that was hidden in the Old Testament and now has been known in Christ.

This mystery was a plan which the “only wise God” (verse 27) predetermined. It was a plan men could not have imagined or planned and which cannot be fathomed apart from divine enablement. It was foretold by the Old Testament prophets and then accomplished in the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The mystery is now proclaimed as accomplished in Christ, through the preaching of the gospel. This gospel, proclaimed by Paul and others, is preached to both Jews and Gentiles. That the Gentiles would be offered salvation in Christ is a part of the mystery which was revealed. The goal of the gospel (as well as of Paul himself, see Romans 1:5) is the obedience which originates from faith (verse 26).

Though the Old Testament did not explain this mystery in advance, now, in retrospect it reveals the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as the fulfillment of God’s plan and the inclusion of the Gentiles. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit enabled Christians to comprehend the prophecies of the Old Testament and through them discover God’s astounding plan The gospel represents the fulfillment of the promises detailed in the Old Testament - "The time is fulfilled". Therefore, the Old Testament scriptures confirm and point to the gospel message. This initial revelation, which contained the hidden mystery now revealed in the gospel, was "by the command of the eternal God."


Misericordias Domini

Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing; *
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.

For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever; *
you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.

"I have made a covenant with my chosen one; *
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:

'I will establish your line for ever, *
and preserve your throne for all generations.'"

You spoke once in a vision and said to your faithful people: *
"I have set the crown upon a warrior
and have exalted one chosen out of the people.

I have found David my servant; *
with my holy oil have I anointed him.

My hand will hold him fast *
and my arm will make him strong.

No enemy shall deceive him, *
nor any wicked man bring him down.

I will crush his foes before him *
and strike down those who hate him.

My faithfulness and love shall be with him, *
and he shall be victorious through my Name.

I shall make his dominion extend *
from the Great Sea to the River.

He will say to me, 'You are my Father, *
my God, and the rock of my salvation.'"

Psalm 89 is a royal psalm, i.e. concerned with the royal household of Jerusalem and Judah, the Davidic dynasty. It is about Yahweh’s promise of eternal faithfulness to that dynasty. In this sense it is appropriate alongside the readings from 1 Samuel 7 and Luke 1:26-38, both of which are concerned with the promise to David

Taken as a whole, Psalm 89 contrasts the might and faithfulness of God, in particular as manifested in the covenant made with David, to the psalmist's present experience of utter national ruin and defeat.

The psalm starts with a brief introduction (vv. 1-4), which is followed by three distinct and lengthy sections (vv. 5-18; 19-37; 38-51). Verses 5-18 speak of the sovereignty of Yahweh over creation and celebrate God's incomparable exalted status and ability to provide victory to Israel and God's keeping the promises made to David.. Verses 19-37 speak about Yahweh’s ruler in Jerusalem, referred to by the name David, but meaning every king in the line of David. They focus on the importance of Yahweh’s promise for those monarchs. In verses 38-52, however, the celebration turns into anguish and despair, as the psalmist laments a stunning defeat and pleads for God to remember the faithfulness and promises that characterized God's relationship with Israel in the past. Verse 52 is the benediction which concludes the third book within the larger Book of Psalms