Monday, December 22, 2008

Ordinary People- Extraordinary God (Sermon 12/21)

2 SAMUEL 7:1-11, 16; LUKE 1:46B-55; ROMANS 16:25-27; LUKE 1:26-38


Do you ever think much about David and Mary having anything in common? David is that king of Israel, whose story we know so well, better than, say, Zerubbal and Jehosophat. Mary is the woman who bears the Son of God. Many years separate them and, technically, they are not related since Joseph is the descendant of David, not Mary.

But in today’s readings, chosen by the lectionary elves for this last Sunday before Christmas, are combined to highlight David and Mary together. The goal of the readings, however, isn’t to shine the light on these two as examples of faith. The goal is that the light of God’s promise of Christ and in Christ would shine through them, through them and onto us.

At the beginning of his life, David was a shepherd. He had, perhaps, an enviable life of watching sheep, fighting clear enemies and composing praise songs to God. Until Samuel appeared and anointed him, David’s life was ordinary, particularly for a youngest son at that time.

Then his life became filled with extraordinary circumstances. He killed a giant Philistine, he was named the successor of Israel’s first king, Saul, and he rescued the Ark of the Covenant. And David’s life also remained ordinary, almost painfully so. He loved and lost his best friend, Jonathan, he made decisions that were wise, marrying Abigail and he made decisions that were bad, lusting after Bathsheba.

Toward the end of his life, David has an ordinary desire born out of his extraordinary circumstances. He has a beautiful house and he wants to build one for the Lord as well. He would like to see God’s presence have a permanent home. However, through the prophet Nathan, David discovers that is not his call. God neither desires nor needs a house. His presence is not and cannot be tethered. However, the Lord comforts David by telling him that the Lord, that God, will build David’s house.

In Hebrew, the word “bayit” means house, as in dwelling, but it also means dynasty. God is telling David the building of a dynasty- the everlasting mark of David’s faith will be God’s work. And David will not get to see it. But God compels him to accept on faith the truth of his promise. David’s house will be built, for God and by God.

And what about Mary? At best, she’s in her mid-teens and engaged. This means she spending a year in her parents’ house, preparing for the day when Joseph, her betrothed, will come to get her. They will be married and she will move into the house of his family, the family of David. Their betrothal is significant because it means if he dies during the year, Mary will be considered a widow and will be offered the protections and treatment that go with that status.

So believing the death of her fiancé is probably the worst thing that can happen to her, here comes an angel. There was a folk story that was popular at the time about a jealous angel who visited brides on their wedding nights and killed the grooms. So Mary was probably more than a little intimidated, to say the least.

What the angel tells her, though, is almost worse. It’s certainly more scandalous. The angel isn’t there to take her husband. He is there to take her life, her life as she knows it. From normal Jewish girl to social pariah and family burden, Mary remained the ordinary girl she was, but suddenly she found herself in extraordinary circumstances. God’s favor does not look like anything we’d particularly like to court when we examine Mary’s story and what it must have done to her life. And yet she is able to utter the words, “Let it be with me according to your word.”

The Holy Spirit did come over and helped her to utter the words that she needed to say. Suddenly, she moves from passive bystander to actively moving in the stream of God’s justice and action. And we know from the gospels that the rest of her life, from that moment on, could not have been easy. However, she was able to pray the Magnificat to and with her cousin Elizabeth. Though the path wasn’t what she would have picked for herself, the grace of being chosen by God settled in her heart and created praise within her.

For David and for Mary, there is an understanding of obedience that comes with blessing. God’s blessing is extended, through them to Christ, to us as well. And we too are called to obedience within that blessing. Yet, like Mary and David, we cannot know God’s promises apart from the risks that a faithful response brings. When we want to go out and build, when we’re ready to act- it’s hard to wait and look both ways to see if it is God’s desire. When we want simplicity and no pain, it’s hard to say, “Let it be with me according to your Word.”

The king and the young woman probably looked at themselves in reflecting pools and said, “How did I get here?” And we’ve all asked that question. Teachers, carpenters, paint salesmen, lawyers, engineers, outdoorsmen, doctors, nurses, parents, single people, married people, widows and widowers, all of us have asked that question in our hearts and in the responding silence, we see the scope of grace in our lives. Grace that has been sufficient for all our needs. Grace that has carried us by inches and feet through darkness and light, through cold and warmth, through ordinary and extraordinary.

We know the foundation of the house of David, Jesus, the Son of Mary. Yet we know in that ordinary man, Jesus, there was an extraordinary God. A God who, through Christ, still comes to us in extraordinary ways.

That “bayit”- house is also said, “bet”, though we would say “beth”. And at Christmas we say it frequently, “beth- lehem”. Lehem means bread. The dynasty of David is fulfilled in the streets of the House of Bread. The Son of Mary comes into the world in the House of Bread. And the legacy of extraordinary encounters with God continues at this table with the Bread of Life who was born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread. Nothing more ordinary than bread. Nothing more extraordinary than the Body of Christ.

In our humanness, there is nothing more miraculous than being ordinary. God doesn’t need extraordinary. Mary wasn’t. David wasn’t. You aren’t. I’m not. But God is and God uses the ordinary for the extraordinary. We are called, by God, to respond obediently to the gift of favor and the gift of faith, to be like David and to be like Mary. To hunger for the Bread of Life and to share it with all those in our lives who also long for it.

May God give us all the grace to respond in patience and faithful obedience to His call to us. And, especially in this season, may our eyes be opened to see our extraordinary God in the most ordinary of places.

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