A painting by Gerard van Honthorst: King David Playing the Harp. Wikimedia Commons

God's Word on Sunday: God’s faithful love is unconditional

  • December 13, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 20 (Year B) 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

David wanted to do something spectacular for God. He proposed building a house for God — a temple — but God was not interested. David was shocked, and even Nathan the prophet was caught unawares.

In the verses omitted from the lectionary, God more or less said that the God of Israel neither required nor desired a house in which to dwell. During all the years of wandering in the desert, God had never asked for one. Perhaps God also recognized that there was more than a little self-aggrandizement on David’s part — the offer was not altogether altruistic.

Having brushed aside David’s proposed temple, God countered with a list of gifts for David. God promised David fame and glory, as well as kingly descendants to carry on His name and kingdom forever.

Tragically, not all of David’s successors were worthy of the throne. Many were wicked and led Israel into idolatry. God also promised that the people would dwell in the land in safety and prosperity, but this was not always the case.

These verses formed the basis of the Davidic kingship and the expectation of an anointed one — a messiah — to reestablish the kingdom. Biblical promises of power and land must always be treated with a degree of caution. These prophetic books of Samuel were written much later and unsurprisingly reflect more than a little justification for the Davidic dynasty.

As ancient religious texts, they should not be used to direct political and foreign policy decisions. But these verses are indeed an affirming assurance of God’s constant care and love for the people. Despite Israel’s many ups and downs, God always showed them faithful love.

In a similar fashion, God has shown that same faithful love to the Church, despite the many ways that we have gone astray and not lived up to our calling. And God is faithful to each of us in our own lives, for God’s love is unconditional and unearned.

Paul closed his magnificent letter to the Romans with a prayer to God, who grants us the strength that we need to be faithful and to overcome adversity. He also rejoiced that the divine intention kept secret for so long was now revealed. The Gentiles were to be included in God’s plan of salvation.

The divine intention and goal has always been a united and reconciled humanity. Unfortunately, some are threatened by that vision and by word, thought and deed drive a wedge between people and undo God’s work.

In the Bible, miraculous births signalled that God was preparing something great and momentous. The unlikely motherhoods of Sarah, the unnamed mother of Samson (Judges 13) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1-2) all testified to God’s power and providence.

Two such births open Luke’s Gospel, the first for Elizabeth and then Mary. This was God’s way of expressing the divine will. Nothing was left to chance and it was made clear that it was entirely God’s show.

The greeting of Gabriel assured Mary that she had found favour in the eyes of God. Not just anyone was asked — she was specifically God’s choice.

Gabriel informed Mary that through the agency of the Spirit of God she would conceive and bear a son that would shatter all their usual expectations. He would be the summation of the promises to Israel and King David and much more. Jesus was also the Son of God and would have an everlasting reign.

Who can blame Mary for being utterly bewildered? That was an overpowering burden for a young woman not even out of her teens. But all she needed was the assurance that this was the hand of God. “Be it done to me according to your will” are the words of one transparent to God and free of fear and self-seeking ego.

Mary stood at the end of a long line of holy individuals that said “yes” to God. One “yes” built on another; God’s action in human history is cumulative. When we give assent to God, even in small matters, we form a link in that chain, and our openness and co-operation may affect individuals for generations to come. We should never underestimate the power of our co-operation with God.

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