Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year B

Fourth Sunday of Advent B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

II Samuel 7: 1-11,16; Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 26-38

Now that King David is settled in a permanent home, he wants to build a permanent home for the "ark of God," which had always been housed in a tent or portable vehicle for easy movement. David tells Nathan of his plan and at first the prophet agrees. But overnight, Nathan heard from the Lord a different message. He is told to remind David that the Lord has been with him from the very beginning when he was tending sheep to now, as prince/shepherd over Israel. While Nathan's message to David does not endorse the King's plan for a permanent home for the ark, it includes two new, major promises: "I will make of you a great nation," and "your house shall be established forever." 

The psalmist celebrates God's faithfulness/reliability as shown specifically in the fortunes of David and his throne, which will last "for all generations."

This closing doxology at the end of the letter to the Romans, whether by Paul or a later editor, reaches wide-- to the past, present and future. God's "mystery" was made known through the ancient prophets, it is known now in Christ, to whom be glory forever.

Relying closely on announcement/birth narratives for Ishmael, Isaac, Samson and Samuel from the First Testament, Luke closely follows precedent, but introduces something totally new. He carefully details how the announcement to Mary and her response will be the fulfillment of the ancient promise to David that his throne will last "forever." The announcement also tells how a barren woman, Elizabeth, will miraculously conceive a son, John the Baptist, with her husband. But Mary's situation is something totally new. Although she is still a virgin and without sleeping with her betrothed, Joseph, she will bear a son. This totally new thing will be accomplished because "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you."

Discussing this intriguing incident in David's life as told in II Samuel, Walter Brueggemann calls it "the interpretive pivot of messianism in Israel." It is a "genuine novum in Israel's faith. In one sweeping assurance, the conditional 'if' of the Mosaic Torah (Exod 19:5-6) is overridden and David is made vehicle and carrier of Yahweh's unqualified grace in Israel, This statement may be regarded as the beginning point for graciousness without qualification...." (emphasis added) (Theology of the Old Testament, pp 604-605)

In his classic study of the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke,
The Birth of the Messiah, (New York: Doubleday, 1979), Raymond Brown concludes that Luke carefully crafts his narrative to make it clear not only that Jesus' birth is in fact the fulfillment of God's promise to David, but it is more. Luke's innovation is "constant with a theology of a new creation wherein God's Spirit, active in the first creation of life (Gen 1:2), was active again." (p. 299)

If for the readings of Advent III we invoked Derrida, (above), for this Sundays readings and gospel we call upon Jean-Luc Marion. John Caputo neatly draws the distinction: "For Marion the sign for 'God' is flooded by givenenss, for Derrida it is a dry and dessert aspiration for I know not what. (Caputo and Scanlon, eds.
God, the Gift and Postmodernism p. 199) "For Marion the Messiah has already come, hypergiveness has already overtaken us, and it is a question of having the eyes to see and the ears to hear and the songs to sing about what already has happened." )p. 218)

So in Marion's own words (from
God Without Being): "Love is not spoken, in the end, it is made. Only then can discourse be reborn, but as enjoyment, a jubilation, a praise." (p. 107) "We believe in the God who gives (back) life." (p. 86) "A gift, and this one [Christ] above all, does not require first that one explain it, but indeed that we receive it." (p.162)

Overwhelming every human (pre) conception, outstripping every (prior) experience of love, out performing every (previous) encounter with generosity, so far beyond any capacity for human measurement that it cannot be extrapolated from human invention, the distinctive claim of the biblical narratives (now renewed in a message to and the response of a Virgin) is the love of God, which not only made all things, but now can make all things new!  With this God, all things are possible.  The paradoxes are outlandish.  A young girl becomes God's willing accomplice for a break-in in the middle of the night; in John Donne's wonderful phrase in his poem, "Annunciation,"  Mary becomes "Thy Maker's maker and thy Father's mother."  Which is sets up the ultimate paradox: God appoints a "Son," a descendant of David, to be born to this Virgin, who will be shown to be God's supreme sign/act of love.