Meanderings

Walking with the Lord – (Year B – Advent 4: 2 Samuel 7:1-11 & Luke 1:26-38)

I have been pondering and praying
over our world this week:

  • The whole “War on Christmas”
    makes no sense if Christians desire to offer the Good News.  There
    are only 50 million seats in the churches of this country that
    claims to have 250 million Christians (according to polls that
    measure what people say, not what they do).  Where would we all sit if all the "Christians" showed up to worship one Sunday?

  • While our political leanings
    about the war in Iraq may differ, can we at least celebrate an
    election?  As Christians can we join Rabbi Marc Gelman in
    celebrating an act of freedom?  (See “Why I Support the War in
    Iraq
    ” – December 16, 2005.
    And by the way, if the elections do not go “our way” will we be
    able to celebrate another nation’s decision?)

  • I give thanks for those who
    made it possible for 250 persons on Saturday and 280 persons on
    Sunday to hear the Christmas message at the Family Christmas
    Celebrations presented by our music ministry team.

  • I think about the 350+ presents
    that filled the lobby of our church before they were delivered
    yesterday to 41 families yesterday.  I think volunteers spending a
    day painting a Habitat house in order to have it ready for
    Christmas, sorting eggs and tossing 1 gallon cans of sweet potatoes
    at the Food Bank, and a stalwart group preparing for a Mississippi
    adventure in disaster relief.

If we are to remember God’s gift
of Jesus Christ this Christmas it might be well to remember why we
give in this season.  Perhaps, no bishop in Christianity is a broadly
known or as misunderstood as Saint Nicholas.  This 4th-century bishop
spent most of his life in a place called Myra in Byzantine Asia Minor
(present day Demre is an agricultural town on the southern coast of
Turkey). 

His saint’s day (December 6, 326)
was widely celebrated because he was revered and loved as a helper of
the hungry and the needy.  The best-known of the St. Nicholas stories
involves a man with three unmarried daughters, and not enough money
to provide them with suitable dowries.  This meant that they couldn’t
marry, and were likely to end up as prostitutes.  Nicholas walked by
the man’s house on three successive nights, and each time threw a bag
of gold in through a window (or, when the story came to be told in
colder climates, down the chimney).  Thus, the daughters were saved
from a life of shame, and all got married and lived happily ever
after.

Because of this and similar stories,
Nicholas became a symbol of anonymous gift-giving.  Hence, if we give
a gift to someone today without saying whom it’s from, it can be
called a present from Saint Nicholas (or Santa Claus).  Some parents
explained this to their children and invited the child to join them
in wrapping a toy.  That toy was either something purchased for that
purpose of giving to someone less fortunate, at least partly with the
child’s allowance, or else a toy that the child has outgrown but
that’s still serviceable.  That toy could also be an outgrown but not
shabby item of the child’s clothing, or a package of food.  Part of
the St. Nicholas ritual was then going along to donate it to a
suitable shelter that would give it to someone who would welcome it.

This was the original ritual of
Christmas: giving to the poor, the hungry, the needy and the
insignificant, the seemingly unimportant members of the community.
This is the spirit of St. Nicholas that I saw active in our church
this past week. (See Jeremy Seal, Nicholas: The Epic Journey
from Saint to Santa Claus
, Bloomsbury: 2005).

Saint Nicholas taught us a lot about
walking with God day by day.  Let’s turn on this Sunday to pay
attention to two others whose walk with God provides careful
instruction for us today.

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 (2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16).

Our lesson begins with two men
making two big mistakes.  The first man, King David, assumes he knows
what God wants.  He is feeling guilty about his comfortable house
made of Cedar while YHWH is living in a tent.  In his comfort he
decides to change the situation – it is good to be the king.  He
tells Nathan what he is planning and Nathan makes the second mistake.
The truth-telling prophet Nathan assumes he can answer for YHWH.
That night YHWH reminds Nathan that God alone is God and that YHWH is
the only one in the building business.  YHWH promises to build
David’s kingdom if David learns to be a servant-king rather than a
self-important king.

A thousand years after David, the
scene in Luke’s gospel shifts from an angel’s appearance to the
priest Zechariah in the holy of holies which stands as part of the
legacy of the temple constructed by David’s son Solomon to a
backwater town in a backwater province – Nazareth.  Nazareth was a
village of no more than 300 people and Mary was an unimpressive
citizen of the village.  She was young, female, unmarried – yet
betrothed, no husband or child to give her significance.  To such a
woman an angel appeared and says “the Lord is with you.”

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 1:26-38).

Gabriel promises Mary that the Lord
will bring the birth of a baby with the bluest of blood.  The child
Mary will bear will be great.  He will claim the throne of his
ancestor David and will reign over the house of Jacob forever.  To
Mary who’s the least is promised the birth of the one who will be the
greatest.  With a servant’s heart she begins her walk with God
saying “let it be to me according to your words.”

God’s self-giving love knows no
boundaries.  Through Mary, the blue collar town of Nazareth and the
blue-blood city of Bethlehem are joined together to bring God’s
miracle to earth.  That mission reminds us that David was the last
son of Jesse considered by Samuel, but the one chosen by God as the
servant king of Israel.  That mission reminds us that Nicholas that
all persons were worthy of God’s love.

The promise for us is that God meets
the “hopes and fears of all the years” when Jesus becomes “flesh
and blood and moves into our neighborhood” (See John 1:14, The
Message
).  My prayer for you this Christmas is that you will
encounter the One who loves you and desires that you spend eternity
in his loving embrace.