A reflection on 2 Samuel 7:1-11 & 16, and Luke 1:46-55 for Sunday, December 20, 2020.
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 for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.
2 Samuel 7:1-11 & 16 (NRSVA)
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Luke 1:46-55 (NRSVA)
How prone we are to seek permanency. To build for generations. To create for the awe of generations to come.
Even Nathan seems sympathetic to David’s vision. At least initially. It takes a visit from the YHWH to help him see differently. Our text reads like David’s cedar-temple-vision is too small. A reminder to the king that God was present from pasture to palace seems appropriate. Can David ever build a structure spanning such a space? It would need to cover the ground, as God says, ‘wherever you (David) went’.
To be sure the shepherd-come-king has covered a lot of ground!
I love the way the word of God – in Nathan’s vision – ends: ‘the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house...’
To be sure, Solomon will build a temple – a ‘house of prayer’. It will, sadly, become an idol. In time it will be destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again.
God’s vision here, however, is far bigger than the preservation of bricks and mortar. God is building the ‘house of David’ on an unimaginable scale. Read it again: ‘Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.’
By the time we reach the end of Nathan’s report of the word of God, the tables are turned. God is the one who is promising to build!
Alongside this deflating of King David’s creative vision, we are asked this week to read the creation of an unmarried peasant girl.
There is something ‘magnificent’ about song. At its core, to sing is to play, imagine, express, put voice to the heart. It is – unlike a temple – simple, moveable, un-stealable.
In fact, Mary’s Song lasted far longer than Solomon’s temple!
Importantly Luke has not, as yet, taken us as far as the moment of incarnation. Mary remains unknown, obscure, hidden away in Elizabeth’s home. Everything – and nothing – has changed since Gabriel appeared.
And so Mary’s is a song of faith.
Mary begins her praise with acknowledgment of the favour shown her. She imagines this work of God celebrated for all time. Mary knows she is abundantly blessed and must allow her gratitude to find wings.
Mary just may be unlocking an already given God-blessing as she sings. It is like she seeks to wade deeper into all God has given.
Mary is, however, humble enough to know that God is doing much more than simply blessing a young girl. Mary can see the mercy of God extending across generations; the strength of God scattering the proud; the power of God mysteriously pulling down and raising up. God is on the move in Mary and is opening her eyes to see this work across time and space.
Make no mistake, this song is a celebration of the action of God.
The action of God.
Mary names this one she sings of from the very first line. She writes of ‘the Lord’, ‘God my Saviour’, and ‘the Mighty One’. And from this focus there is no change. After naming her object of praise our translation uses the terms ‘he’ or ‘him’ no less than 12 (twelve) times. Mary will not let her audience be distracted to anything else.
This is a song exalting God. It is the ultimate love song.
Yes, ‘Mary’s Song’ is praise for much more than divine favour bestowed on an individual. This is about a God who is fulfilling promises of old. It encompasses the hope of her nation and extends all the way back to Israel’s birth. It is praise for the impossibly close fulfillment of the ancient and celebrated vision of Abraham.
There is a lot for Mary to sing about. And she does it well. For this peasant girl knows that growing in her is God’s promise of salvation.
It makes me think there is truth in the saying ‘The one who sings prays twice.’
Are you more prone to build for God – or celebrate God’s building for all creation?
How does your worship include the call to ‘play, imagine, express, put voice to the heart’? Are these things lacking – or abundant – in the ‘song’ of your life?
Think of one of your favourite worship songs. Does it focus primarily on God? Does it have more to say about you than God? What do you think is a good balance here?
What are the actions of God that you are prone to celebrate? What are the actions of God that you are not prone to celebrate?