- Drawing out the message from the readings of Sunday, December 20 (Year B, Advent 4):
- OT: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 — God promises David a future descendant with an eternal reign
- NT gospel: Luke 1:26-38 — Gabriel prepares Mary to bear a child to be called the son of God
- NT letter: Romans 16:25-27 — Paul gives glory to God for the mystery of things formerly hidden now being revealed to all.
Video introduction: ‘Jesus — Sight Unseen’
We’re used to the idea that “seeing is believing”. Faith works the other way round. Believing becomes a way of perceiving what cannot be registered by sight or the other physical senses.
In life, we can easily overlook what we are not anticipating. On the other hand, we are more likely to see what we expect to see. The trained eye will detect what to the untrained eye is unremarkable.
Faith is training our spiritual senses to ‘see’ what God is revealing. God is Spirit and so we need to switch on our ‘supernatural channel’ to pick up what He is showing us.
David’s promise that points to Jesus
This week’s readings give us three accounts of anticipating Jesus, or being aware of Him working or becoming present without seeing Him with our eyes.
Nathan the prophet, confidential adviser to King David, sees a distant-future successor to David. He will have a distinctly spiritual kingly authority and a kind of kingdom that is constant and enduring, not subject to political cycles.
He understands that David wants to create a kingdom that outlasts his life. He knows that this depends on the earthly rule being closely connected with God’s presence. So to secure God’s presence, David proposes to build a temple.
But he’s not the right person to do that. He has been a warrior king, establishing rest for the nation from the constant attacks of other tribes and nations. However, Nathan is given a promise from God which honours David for his devotion. David will not build a house for God, but God will build a ‘house’ or dynasty for David:
“The Lord himself will establish a house for you: Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before Me; your throne shall be established for ever.”
2 Samuel 7, 11 and 16
David can’t see this future event, and it isn’t something he can readily imagine. But with the eyes of faith (and David had a ‘core strength’ of faith in God) He could see the promise God was showing him.
Mary’s promise and instruction to name Him Jesus
Our second story of anticipating Jesus is the messenger angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary in Nazareth. It was an up-country, out-of-the-way place for an angel to visit, and Mary an unlikely candidate — young, female and Galilean. But this is God, who overturns the conventions of man.
The angel spoke to Mary, reassuring her and amazing her by saying:
“You have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; His kingdom will never end.’
There is a clear parallel between the prophet Nathan’s words of promise to David, and Gabriel’s words of promise to Mary. A thousand years have become like an update on yesterday’s news.
Mary was getting used to the idea of being married to Joseph, a craftsman who was quite a bit older than her. That would be an adjustment — and now her life was turned upside down by God.
In one way, she had no experience, and knew of no precedent in Scripture, which would show her how this might work out. But she had a definite faith in God, and after a bit more dialogue with Gabriel, she knew because she knew because she knew. And she agreed with God for it:
May Your word to me be fulfilled.
Paul speaks of the promise fulfilled and the mystery revealed
The church in Rome that Paul was writing to, didn’t meet in a building, performed no rituals and had no clerical leaders with titles or salaries. It was simply a body of believers held together by their shared faith in Jesus. Had they seen Jesus? Apart from Paul, who had encountered Jesus in a vision, they had not seen Jesus at work among th em. But in another way, by faith they were very aware of Him.
And Paul could write to them about the Good News that had come to him in such as personal way:
My gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known.
It was revealed and made know first by the prophets, Paul said. All the OT writers were setting the scene and pointing the way to the Messiah who would in God’s time be revealed. And now Jesus had been revealed as the fulfilment of this mystery, the reality of a promise which could be grasped by faith but needed rational understanding to catch up.
Jesus was at the centre of their lives and the entire focus of their gathering as church. He was seen as clearly by faith as if He was present like He was to the first disciples.
How we receive the promise
And that’s the message. We know Jesus by faith — no other way. We receive the good news of who He is and what He has done for us in taking our sins on Himself and restoring our relationship with God — by faith. We choose to receive Him into our hearts, and that is the point of our salvation. No sacrament or recitation can magically do that for us — it is our decision to submit to His lordship. In all three of these stories we are reminded that it is all about Jesus.
If some part of our life, ambition or devotion has become about something peripheral, we need to give it back to Him. When we see with the eyes of faith, we regain heaven’s perspective where Jesus rules and reigns.