The Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B


December 24, 2017

Reading 1Reading 2Reading 3Reading 4Reading 1 AltReading 2 Alt
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)Romans 16:25-27Luke 1:26-38

by David Grant Smith

As this year’s Season of Advent comes to a close, the fourth candle on the Advent wreath lit this Sunday morning won’t be much shorter than the candle which is lit for Christmas Eve that same evening! When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it creates a combination of tensions and potential mayhem around how clergy and congregations can give the Fourth Sunday of Advent its due, while at the same time being realistic about the fact that most people will probably opt to hold off coming to church until it’s actually Christmas Eve.

One potential option would be to conflate the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve into a Ceremony of Lessons and Carols. Another, less complicated possibility is to provide a simple, quiet, and reflective morning service for the end of Advent, leaving it open-ended, and then inviting people to come to the conclusion of the celebration for the congregation’s Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service. For those who are providing a full Advent Four liturgy, what follows here are a few reflections on the readings which might help shape their use in liturgy, as well as the way that they are proclaimed for those gathered.

As recorded in 2 Samuel 7, when King David desired to build a temple for celebrating God’s presence among the ancient Israelites, the response that he received was an affirming one – “I have been with you wherever you went… and I will make for you a great name… and I will give you rest from all your enemies.” But the rest of the response isn’t what David was asking for – “the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house” rather than having David make a house for God! What a wondrous and mysterious turn of events – the king that would build a temple for God then says that the king himself will be the house. What might that look like? What implications are tied up in the idea that God will turn a person into a house? Might it be that there are ways that people find a home within us? Does it stand to reason that God might, too? The answer is yes; God does find a home within us, and is continually building us up into becoming better and better homes for the divine presence, one lure at a time, one concrescence at a time. And as each of us become more and more that home for God and God’s purposes, it leaves us (and God) open for more and more possibilities in the open future.

The response to this week’s reading from 2 Samuel isn’t a psalm like most Sundays, but is one of the hymns composed by the author of Luke. Referred to usually as “The Song of Mary,” or the “Magnificat,” the poetry of Luke 1:46-55 is placed on the lips of Mary, the young woman to whom Gabriel announced that she would be the mother of Jesus (the story which is today’s official Gospel reading). But the Magnificat isn’t Mary’s response to Gabriel; rather, it’s in response to Elizabeth, one of her relatives, who refers to Mary as “the mother of my Lord.” The pregnant Mary is referred to as the bodily home of Jesus, who is heralded throughout Luke as “the Son of God.” Mary’s response is a paraphrase of similar words placed on the lips of another woman who bore a child as promised by God; the Song of Hanna is found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Mary’s version of the song identifies God as being the one who turns the world upside down, which was the experience of king David – instead of building a house for God to live in, God lures people toward becoming the very home in which holy concrescences are conceived, and through whom new adventures and possibilities for the future are born!

This week’s brief reading from the conclusion of Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a doxology which celebrates the idea that God makes homes for God’s Self in the peoples of every nation. And that might be all that needs to be said of this pastoral benediction. In fact, it may make some sense on this Fourth Sunday of Advent to simply move this reading to the very end of worship, so that it can be the concluding benediction for worship.

The Gospel reading for this week, Luke 1:26-38, is the beloved story of Gabriel telling Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus. The story is an archetypical model of a process metaphysic – Mary is unmarried but engaged (this is in her past which doesn’t have to shape her future possibilities), God gives her a message that she is loved and is invited into an adventure with God (lure), she agrees (concrescence), and the future remains open to new possibilities to both Mary and God, as well as the child she will bear into the world. Mary’s response to Gabriel – “let it be with me according to your word” – is her way of incarnating the lure of God’s intentions. Her response is a model for all of us to imitate so that we, too, might become living, breathing, walking homes in which God can live and move and have God’s being.

 


 

The Rev. David Grant Smith is a priest in the Episcopal Church, and is presently pursuing the D.Min. degree at Claremont School of Theology, focusing his studies on process theology as a resource for parish ministry and spiritual care. While at CST, David is thrilled to be currently working as the student assistant for Process & Faith. He has served in both parish ministry (Episcopal Diocese of Rochester) and as a hospital chaplain (Christiana Hospital in Newark, DE; and the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD). Prior to ordination, David worked for many years as a lay professional, serving as pastoral associate, choir director, organist, and minister of music. In addition to his interests in weaving Process Theology in and through preaching, liturgy, teaching, and pastoral care, David enjoys travel, writing, tea, wine, and spending time with family & friends.

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