Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16 | Luke 1:46–55 | Romans 16:25–27 | Luke 1:26–38
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
This morning we celebrate both the beginning and end of the fourth week of Advent… what a short week! I know they say time flies when you’re having fun, but in my opinion, cramming a whole week into less than 24 hours is a bit much! But regardless of how long or short we may want Advent to be, this evening it all comes to an end as we celebrate Christmas Eve, when Mary gave birth to the Son of God, Jesus the Saviour of our world. And though it may just last this morning, the fourth week of Advent calls us to contemplate something central… something essential to the story of Christmas, and for that matter, to the whole story of God: theme of Love – connection… communion… binding hearts and lives together as one.
As we know, Love is often talked about in our society in a one-sided way… we say love to speak of our longing… our desires… our appreciation for something or someone. In this light, love looks like little more than a feeling or personal motivation.
But there are of course other ways of thinking about love… like seeing it as a mutual bond… a commitment to the communion between persons… a community… in which all involved share in the blessing… being built up together, trusting one another even as we face the unknown.
This is the kind of love that Advent invites us to reflect on… a love best expressed not by seeking out that which one person desires for themselves… but by offering themself to their beloved, trusting them to be faithful. This is the love that we encounter in Scripture… and which is at the heart of Advent, and Christmas… God’s self-giving love.
That said, our first reading this morning from second Samuel might seem a strange place to begin reflecting on self-giving love… with all its talk about temples. But in the imaginations of the ancient world, including Israel and their neighbours, temples were the places where heaven and earth could meet… where the divine and mortal spaces overlapped, so to speak, and communion between them could be achieved.
Temples were also the tangible places where one’s devotion were visibly put into practice. The focal points for communities to display their piety: It was where offerings were given to show gratitude. And sacrifices were made to seek forgiveness. Sacred places set apart to renew and restore the relationships between humans and the divine. And while temples were common place all over the Ancient Near East, before the days of King David, Israel did not have a temple of their own.
At Mt. Sinai, the Living God had promised to be with His people, and graciously made a covenant relationship with them, akin to a marriage… a sacred bond. He would be their God, and they would be His people… and God’s own faithfulness and love would be the foundation for their life together.
And as a tangible sign of God’s ongoing presence with them, wherever they would go, God had them construct the Tabernacle… a sacred movable tent… where the Ark of the Covenant would reside… where gifts and sacrifices could be offered, and where God could meet with His people… and where the people could come close to their LORD… experiencing up close His forgiveness, His mercy, His grace, and His faithful love.
And for centuries, God’s people in all of their wanderings had worshiped God in this mobile tent… as the One not bound to one place, but who dwelt in the midst of the community of His people. But after his rise to power, King David longed to establish a more permanent residence for the LORD of all. A grand house for his God… a Temple.
Was this intended as an act of love? An expression of gratitude for all God had done for him… raising him up from his lowly and humble beginnings as a shepherd, to be the king of Israel?
Whatever his intentions, as it turns out David’s desire to show his devotion to the Living God is completely outdone by God’s own devotion to him… promising to give him a great gift, not of a sacred building, but of a dynasty… a family destined to be drawn into God’s everlasting plan of salvation. 2 Samuel 7:11-16,
“Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”
God would build from David a chosen King who would reign forever… and would be in true communion with the LORD always… as father and son they would be… and this chosen king would build a true house for God’s name… an everlasting place where heaven and earth truly meet… where all can encounter God’s steadfast and faithful love.
And though in time, David’s heir, Solomon, would indeed build a grand temple of stone in Jerusalem, where Israel would focus their worship of the Living God, that meeting place would not last forever… and would serve as a signpost pointing to the true place where heaven and earth would become one… the temple of the body of this promised offspring of David.
What a gift God gave David. But he would have to trust God and take Him at His word. David would never live to see the fulfillment of this promise, and so many questions would be left unanswered. When would this promised one come? What would he do when he finally arrived? How would God bring all of this about? Questions that would have to wait until that first Christmas.
And as we heard today, God’s promise would all come about through the body of Mary… a teenage bride to be, who to the world seemed like a lowly nobody… and who, like David before her, was graciously favoured by God and lifted up. And through Mary, the Living God, the Creator of the cosmos would take on flesh and be born among us. In Mary’s womb, the Son of God became the Son of Man, and Heaven and Earth became one… in Him.
The Anglican bishop and scholar, N.T. Wright puts it well when he says that: “Mary becomes the temporary dwelling-place of the living God: the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the ‘overshadowing’ of the Most High, both evoke the temple-idea. This passage struggles to say something for which words hardly exist: that in Mary’s womb temple and king came together once and for all, that the scriptures came true in ways never imagined, and that God found at last the house, neither tent nor temple but flesh and blood, that would most truly and fully express his royal, self-giving love.”
What a gift God gave to Mary… but one that opens up all sorts of questions: How can this be? What will this promised child be like? What will He do? What am I supposed to do? But even with so many questions, and so much left unknown, we know Mary’s response: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She believes, and opens her heart to the divine message of God’s gracious gift of love… to her, and through her, to the world. Mary chooses to trust God, and the world has never been the same since.
These stories of David and Mary, along with all of the Holy Scriptures, invite us to reflect on the great gift of God’s self-giving love… and how we can share in it. We see how from the start, He makes the first move… and out does all our outward shows of devotion… how He longs to reunite our broken world to Heaven’s glorious life. And in Jesus, King David’s descendant and the Virgin Mary’s son, this is exactly what God has done… not just in Bethlehem, but all throughout Jesus’ life… bringing back those who are scattered and lost… binding up broken bodies and hearts… setting loose those who are bound by their shame, and sin, and fear… and giving Himself away at the cross to bring God’s saving, self-giving love to the world once and for all.
Advent and Christmas remind us that at the heart of the story of God is God’s self-giving love… God’s commitment to His creation to do whatever it takes to renew the communion that Earth and Heaven were both created to share in forever.
And of course, nowhere is God’s self-giving love more clearly displayed than at the cross, where David’s royal descendant would wear a crown, not of gold but of thorns, and where He would be exalted… not on a throne but on the cruel tree of death. And where Mary would stand by in helpless agony as her miracle child’s life comes to a brutal end before her tear-filled eyes. How could this be? Why would God allow this all to happen? So many questions left unanswered… at least until Easter… when the full glory of God’s gift in Jesus would be revealed in the resurrection… as the self-giving love of God breaks down every barrier that keeps us apart from Him.
Here the words of St. Paul in His letter to the Romans, Chapter 5 verses 6-11:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
In Jesus, God offers us all the gift of reconciliation… no matter who we are, or what we have done, He has done everything to reunite us in His love. In Jesus, God has made the perfect sacrifice to deal with all of our sins… and bring us the gift of forgiveness, and the freedom to share in His New Life forever.
Tonight we will celebrate the birth of this Jesus… God’s eternal Son who stepped into our messed up time and space to set us free… giving us nothing less than everything… His own life… His body and blood… to bring us back to true communion with our Heavenly Father, and to share His self-giving love with each other, and everyone.
And like David and Mary, we too are invited to allow God’s self-giving love to reshape our lives. To open our hearts to His mercy and grace, and to be drawn even deeper into His own divine communion.
There will always be many questions of our own about how God might bring all of this about in our own lives… but even so, we too can receive all that His love offers us… in faith. Trusting God, Father, Son, and Spirit, to be true to His word… and to open us up to His saving, self-giving love to work in and through you and I as well… giving ourselves wholeheartedly back to the One who gave Himself for us.
And so, this fourth week of Advent… this Christmas… and every day of our lives, may the LORD give us the grace to respond to His gift of love in Jesus Christ our Saviour with these faithful words of Mary: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Amen.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible) Readings, Year B (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002), 9.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School