Why on earth should we have a reading from the Second book of Samuel today? Why should we care, in the midst of all our preparations for Christmas? What matter to us whether David did or did not provide a house of worship for God, the house of cedar, rather than the tent of the presence of meeting?
Perhaps we do not really care, or perhaps we know enough about biblical history to know that it was Solomon who built the first temple, not David, who was Solomon’s father. But what we probably do not appreciate is the way in which this passage was understood in the early Church. Among the earliest of Christians, this passage was understood to be a foretelling—a prediction of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. That, of course was based on the ending: “The Lord declares that the Lord will make you a house…Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.”
Granted, it may not have been appreciated in this way by king David. But the early Christians, understood that the birth of the Lord Jesus was the fulfillment of this promise of God—this passage of scripture from 2nd Samuel.
And, moreover, in their metaphorical way of looking at it, they quickly moved to a meditation that the living God would not come to reveal himself as a place in the world, but a living entity. They saw how this living, dynamic presence of God was prefigured in the mobility of the tent of presence and the ark of the Covenant. The image is that God and his power are not limited to a fixed location: he goes where David goes; He goes where you go; God does not reveal himself as a building. So, in their understanding of this passage, they would have said, the temple of God is not the house of cedar; the temple of God in the world is the flesh and the blood; the earthly life of the human infant Jesus.
Now, one thing I’ve learned as the Rector of Saint Paul’s is that we all do come from a wide variety of backgrounds: some of us do not feel the slightest bit uncomfortable when it comes to the topic of today’s Gospel. Others of us come from a different background in which we were infused with a great deal of suspicion of things that seem overly Marian. But if I may be so bold as to venture to make a few comments about the Gospel. After all, at this season, even my more protestant friends send Christmas Cards that feature the Holy Family wending their way to Bethlehem.
In proper reference this morning’s gospel is called the annunciation because at this moment in salvation history, God announces his plan of salvation to Mary. In the early church they saw how this was connected to the first lesson. God chose not to dwell in a house made of cedar, built by human hands; he chose to dwell instead in a temple constructed of the flesh of humanity. Just as the ark of the covenant was clothed in the tent of presence; just so it was clearly understood that the ark of the human life of Jesus was veiled, contained within the Blessed Virgin. This is reflected in many familiar Christmas Carols which we’ll be singing next week such as Hark the Herald Angels sing:
Veiled in flesh, the God head see, hail the incarnate diety, pleased as man with man to dwell, hail to our Emmanuel. Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born king.
So readings today set the stage to prepare us for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ at his birth, reminding us of this: God is a living active dynamic presence; not at static, lifeless entity, but living in our midst: a theme that is not singularly unique to the coming season, but a theme to be found throughout all of scripture.