Sermons  SSLR  Illustrations  Lenten Resources  News  Devos  Newsletter  Clergy.net  Churchmail  Children  Bulletins  Search


kirshalom.gif united-on.gif

Sermon & Lectionary Resources           Year A   Year B   Year C   Occasional   Seasonal


Join our FREE Illustrations Newsletter: Privacy Policy
Introduction To The Scripture For The Fourth Sunday of Advent - Year B
2 Samuel 7:1-11,16; Luke 1:47-55; Psalm 89:1-4,19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Alt - Psalm 89:1-4,19-26

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John normally structures his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
The Fourth Sunday of Advent - Year B


2 SAMUEL 7:1-11,16           There seems little reason for this lesson on 
the Sunday before Christmas except that it ends with the promise to David 
that his reign would be established forever.  This almost appears as a 
'quid pro quo' for David fulfilling the commission given through Nathan 
the prophet to build the temple in David's new capital, Jerusalem.


LUKE 1:47-55                 Instead of a psalm, we read Mary's song when 
she has revealed her pregnancy to her older relative Elizabeth, the mother 
of John the Baptist.  This song is known as "The Magnificat" from the 
Latin translation of its first words: "My soul magnifies the Lord".  Was 
it actually Mary's song or was it Luke's idea of what she might have said 
on this happy occasion? Bible scholars agree that Luke found his model in 
Hannah's song at the birth of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10).  


PSALM 89:1-4,19-26           [Alternate]  This psalm reiterates the 
promise to David that his dynasty would remain forever.  Early Christians 
quickly adopted it as a prophecy for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, 
descended from David as identified in the genealogies of Matthew 1:1-17 
and Luke 4:23-38.


ROMANS 16:25-27              This doxology ties together Old Testament 
prophecies and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There is between the two what 
we may call continuity and discontinuity.  The activity of our eternal God 
provides the link.  In Jesus Christ, God's will to bring all humanity to 
faith has been revealed.


LUKE 1:26-38                 As might be expected, the story of the coming 
of Jesus begins with the announcement to Mary that she is to be the mother 
of the Son of God.  Much has been made of the details of this story in 
theology, hymnody and art.  The mystery of the Incarnation is told in a 
story because it cannot be described in other ways.  The miracle is that 
God came, not how it happened.  It is important to remember that we 
believe in Jesus, God's Son, not because he was born of the Virgin Mary, 
but because he is God come among us in human form, “the Word made flesh.”  
Mary made this possible by her acceptance of God's will that she be Jesus' 
human mother.  


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS

2 SAMUEL 7:1-11,16   There seems little reason for this lesson on the last 
Sunday before Christmas except that it ends with the promise to David that 
his reign would be established forever (vs.  16).  This almost appears as 
a 'quid pro quo' for David fulfilling the commission given through Nathan 
the prophet to build the temple of Yahweh in David's new capital city, 
Jerusalem.  As it turned out, David did not fulfill his part of the 
bargain.  

The story has all the artificiality of hagiography.  It begins with 
David's confession of guilt to Nathan about his apparent success and 
comfort in comparison to the rude tent in which the ark of the covenant 
still rests.  Nathan received a nighttime revelation from Yahweh, 
presumably in a dream, instructing him to encourage David to proceed with 
the building of a temple.  There follows a brief summary of David's career 
as a fulfillment of the Israel's divinely shaped history and ends with the 
assurance that David's dynasty will last forever.  David's prayer in the 
latter part of the chapter further emphasizes the artificiality of the 
preceding story.

In his exegesis of this passage, the late Professor George B.  Caird, one 
time principal of United Theological College, Montreal, and of Mansfield 
College, Oxford, stated that this chapter is one of the most controversial 
in the book of Samuel.  (*The Interpreter's Bible* vol.  2, 864f.  
Nashville, TN: The Abingdon Press, 1951.) Many scholars had drawn 
attention to its parallel in Psalm 89 and some have suggested that there 
is a direct linkage between the two.  Caird pointed to the first four 
verses of the psalm as presupposing the existence of the prophecy of 
Nathan in vs.  16 of this reading.  Others have proposed that the passage 
was the product of the Deuteronomists in the latter years of the Davidic 
dynasty, when the Babylonians indeed did threaten and ultimately brought 
about its end in recorded history.  Caird concluded, however, that there 
is every reason to believe that both the psalm and this reading were 
dependent on an earlier tradition of uncertain date.

On the other hand, Caird's analysis of the passage pointed out its true 
value as Christian scripture: "The belief in David's everlasting kingdom, 
which persisted even after the down fall of the Davidic dynasty at the 
time of the Exile, contributed to the later eschatology of Judaism in 
which many pious hopes were centered in the coming of the great David's 
greater son." The NT gospels were written as a further extension of this 
eschatological belief.  The difference is that the gospels declared that 
the promise had been fulfilled the promise in the life, death and 
resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah/Christ.  The two 
genealogies in Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38 make this point especially 
clear.  


LUKE 1:47-55   Instead of a selection from the Psalms, we may read Mary's 
song when she has revealed her pregnancy to her older relative Elizabeth, 
the mother of John the Baptist.  For many centuries it has been known as 
"The Magnificat" from the Latin translation of its first words: "My soul 
magnifies the Lord." In actuality, however, it is a psalm; and like many 
others in the Psalter, it consists of a number of selections drawn from 
the oracles of the prophets.  Bible scholars generally agree that Luke 
found his model in Hannah's song at the birth of the prophet, Samuel (1 
Samuel 2:1-10.)  

Luke's idea of what Mary might have said on this happy occasion might be 
seen as only slightly relevant to the actual situation.  That also was 
case with the model Luke followed.  Yet this in no way has diminished the 
significance of the song for the faith of the church through the past two 
millennia.  What has distracted many, perhaps, is the way it has been so 
closely associated with a sentimental understanding of  Mary's role in the 
spiritual life of the Christian church.  

Mary's joy at being so favored finds it fullest expression, however, not 
in anticipating the birth of her child, but in what is to happen according 
to God's will and purpose because of this child's coming into the world.  
Moving as it does from the personal to national concerns, the song 
reflects Mary's own exaltation from the humiliation of a still unmarried 
mother to the greatness of the one through whom God came to establish 
justice in the world.  

In his commentary on St.  Luke, Professor George Caird wrote: "If the 
Magnificat had been preserved as a separate psalm outside of its present 
context, we might have taken it to be the manifesto of a political and 
economic revolution....Jesus was to take up this hope for the reversal of 
human fortunes and rid it of its limitations of nationalism and self-
righteousness, so that it could become the basis of a more profound 
revolution than the Jews had ever bargained for; and Luke’s gospel more 
than any of the others does justice to this aspect of his ministry."  
(*St. Luke* The Pelican New Testament Commentaries. Penguin Books,
1963)

As disturbing as this may be to modern enthusiasts of either biblical and 
dogmatic literalism or economic fundamentalism, this message remains true 
to the great prophets of Israel such as Amos, Micah and Isaiah.  It still 
rings true today.  At a time when the gap between rich and poor widens 
daily, the leaders of nations have failed to recognize the nature of the 
problem, let alone the dangers of social upheaval inherent in it.  
Prophetic declarations of the will of God that provident justice is for 
all humanity need to be repeated again and again.  This is the essential 
message which the song of Mary proclaims.


PSALM 89:1-4,19-26   [Alternate]  This reading reiterates the promise to 
David that his dynasty would remain forever.  The whole psalm consists of 
four distinct parts of which we have here only the first and part of the 
third sections.  Although some scholars have declared it as two originally 
separate psalms, it seems more likely that it originated as a lament for a 
Judean king and should therefore be treated as a royal psalm.  The latter 
verses 38-45 suggest that it may have been written after a significant 
national disaster such as the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and the 
exile of the greater part of the nation’s political, economic and 
religious leadership.

The hope of the restoration of the Davidic monarchy persists throughout 
the poem.  Expressions such as “my chosen one, my servant, the first-born, 
the highest of the kings of the earth, thy anointed, one exalted from the 
people” all reinforce this perception.  These terms make abundantly clear 
that the house of David has total divine sanction.  Vss.  30-33 goes so 
far as to declare with a profound sense of the Deuteronomist’s view of 
history that those break the covenant law will suffer divine punishment 
represented and ideally enforced by the monarch.  The present reading 
concludes with the absolute assurance that David’s line would remain 
regardless of the vicissitudes of history.

Early Christians quickly adopted the psalm as a prophecy for the coming of 
Jesus, the Messiah, descended from David.  The genealogies of Matthew 1:1-
17 and Luke 4:23-38, although artificially designed, expressed this 
belief.  Christian scripture and hymnody has reiterated the theme in such 
passages as the stories and poetry placing the birth of Jesus in 
Bethlehem, the city of David.  


ROMANS 16:25-27   This doxology needs to be read aloud and heard as if the 
apostle himself was delivering it as a benediction.  At first it may 
appear to read clumsily.  Scholars have long debated whether it is really 
part of the letter at all or an addition attached to it at some later 
date.  Variations in ancient manuscripts give ample evidence to support 
this debate.  Commentaries differ as to the authenticity of this specific 
passage and of the whole of ch. 16 as well as the original placing of the 
doxology in the letter.  It has been suggested that it might better follow 
15:33.  It has even been hypothesized that - except for the reference to 
the prophets in vs. 26 - it was composed by the 2d century Christian 
Marcion, condemned as a heretic because he rejected the OT as valid 
scripture.  Marcion is also known to have used a version of the letter 
truncated at the end of ch. 14.  

On the other hand, one might well begin the benediction with the opening 
words of vs.  25, "Now to God who is able to strengthen you ..." and then 
skip to the concluding words of vs.  27, "to the only wise God, through 
Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever.  Amen." To do so, however, would 
be to miss the whole intent of the passage.  

The theme of the doxology is that while the divine plan of salvation was 
witnessed to by the prophetic scriptures of Israel, its full scope has 
only been revealed by the coming of Jesus Christ.  Thus it ties together 
Old Testament prophecies and the gospel of which Paul claimed to be one of 
the early apostles.  There is between the two what we may call continuity 
and discontinuity.  The activity of our eternal God provides the essential 
link.  In Jesus Christ, God's will to bring all humanity to faith has been 
revealed.  

The key to this interpretation of the passage is found in the reiterated 
phrase "according to ...."  English translations struggle to make sense of 
the complicated clauses which follow a simple Greek word *kata*.  Some 
attempt to work around it, but most set these as repeated clauses to 
create emphasis that builds to the climax as to God's ultimate purpose 
from time immemorial: "to bring about the obedience of faith." 

In short, this was the gospel which Paul preached.  Everything he had 
learned and believed as a Jewish Pharisee, he still claimed as his lasting 
heritage.  Yet he had now found all that completely transformed through 
the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Having grasped this freely offered 
gift, he had no other message to proclaim.  As William Barclay wrote in 
his conclusion to *The Letter to the Romans*: "For Paul, the Christian is 
not a man who has surrendered to an ineluctable power; he is a man who has 
fallen in love with the God who is the lover of the souls of men, and 
whose love stands for ever full-displayed in Jesus Christ." (The Daily 
Study Bible.  Edinburgh: The St.  Andrew Press, 1955.)


LUKE 1:26-38   As might be expected, the story of the coming of Jesus 
begins with the announcement to Mary that she is to be the mother of the 
Son of God.  Much has been made of the details of this story in theology, 
hymnody, art, including within recent years a feature television movie.  A 
great deal of these presentations give a very sentimental view of both 
Mary and her pregnancy.  In 1999, an article in the Los Angeles Times and 
Toronto Star described how scholars, artists and moviemakers have made an 
effort to give Mary "a makeover." The article stated that "some of their 
most powerful new impressions of her come from comparisons of her problems 
with those of the underprivileged today....  (These) re-evaluations of 
Mary didn't start as a 'tear down.' Instead, she is being respectfully 
escorted off a pedestal that has kept her from living as full a life as 
modern historians and scripture scholars are currently reconstructing 
her."

Some more radical scholars like John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan 
and other participants in the Jesus Seminar give a much more down to earth 
interpretation of the narratives of Matthew and Luke.  If somewhat 
speculative and having a certain appearance of negativity, their work does 
substantiate the conviction of many modern believers that the great 
religious mystery and spiritual meaning of the Incarnation is that God 
came, not how it happened.  
 
It is important to remember that we believe in Jesus, God's Son, not 
because he was miraculously conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, but 
because he is God come among us in human form.  Mary made this possible by 
her acceptance of God's will that she be Jesus' human mother (vs. 38).  
This aspect of the story points directly to the humanity of Jesus.  

Donald Spoto, a former Roman Catholic monk, scholar and biographer of a 
number of famous persons, published what purports to be a biography of 
Jesus.  (*The Hidden Jesus: A New Life* St. Martin's Press, 1998).  His 
chapter on the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke is particularly 
insightful.  Among his many incisive comments he has stated: [Jesus'] 
existence as God's ultimate manifestation does not cancel his humanity....  
The chapters (telling of Jesus' birth) are far richer if we read them as 
artistic, highly refined, dramatically structured and inspired religious 
meditations - declarations of the Easter faith, lovingly and strategically 
placed at the head of the two Gospels to announce just who Jesus is, in 
opposition to those who understand very little of him, as the subsequent 
story of his ministry makes painfully clear." 

Perhaps with concern for his relationship to the church, Spoto quotes the 
staunchly conservative Cardinal Josef Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) 
who presided over the Roman Catholic Church as official arbiter of church 
dogma:  "According to the faith of the Church, the Sonship of Jesus does 
not rest on the fact that Jesus had no human father: the doctrine of 
Jesus' divinity would not be affected if Jesus had been the product of a 
normal human marriage."

Another of Spoto's astute observations reads: "The birth of Jesus, say 
Matthew and Luke - and those who came to believe in Jesus - begins a new 
creation.  And the only way for ancient writers to describe this new 
creation was by the inspired invention of new metaphors - not the 
fabrication of untruth, but an entirely fresh way of telling the truth.  
God's revelation, after all, need not be restricted to the form of literal 
history."

The presence of angels in the birth narratives in Luke's Gospel is the 
ancient Jewish way of saying metaphorically that God was initiating a 
unique and self-revealing event.  As in the story of Abraham and Sarah in 
Genesis 18 & 21, God acted beyond all expectations.  The message of the 
angel Gabriel to Mary was the same: "Nothing shall be impossible with 
God." (Luke 1:37)  The angel's words by way of explanation to Mary about 
this unique event is a post-resurrection statement: "The Holy Spirit will 
come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you..."  Yet 
it still is within the context of a Jewish Christian faith attested by the 
name for God, "Most High," and the angel's additional words, "therefore 
the child to be born will be holy."

The theological concept of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ and the 
story of the annunciation in this scripture reading are by no means easy 
subjects on which to preach.  The contemporary preacher must do so 
recognizing that there are in the listening congregation many who 
sincerely desire to hold an intelligible faith that both maintains the 
ancient traditions of the gospel and yet does not violate their 
credibility.  It is no longer sufficient to proclaim emphatically, "The 
Bible says...."  The preacher must struggle to understand what the author 
of the scripture passage intended to say in the rich, metaphorical 
language of his time and culture, and then show the congregation in 
language and metaphors of our time and culture how to believe, as that 
first audience believed, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living 
God.

Some of the more radical alternatives to the doctrine Virgin Birth have 
suggested that Mary was the victim of rape, possibly by a Roman soldier.  
Assuredly, that would not have been unknown in those distressed times.  
But would that have been so much worse than the incidents reported in our 
modern media almost daily of women being similarly abused.  Recently, a 
Moslem woman from Pakistan who had been so shamefully ill-treated by male 
members of her own family for the sake of the so-called “family honor” has 
become an international heroine seeking to banish this practice from her 
culture.  In essence, she and all those supporting her seek to redeem her 
culture from an ancient tradition which no one can accept as anything but 
a violation of human rights.  

Is it not possible to view the birth of Jesus to his as yet unwed mother 
in a similar light?  Does this not also lift up the redemption as the 
essential purpose of God in the human birth of Jesus of Nazareth?  Radical 
as the thought may be, if we were writing the story of his birth today, 
would it not be quite appropriate to cast it in such terms?

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



Further information on this ministry and the history of "Sermons & Sermon - Lectionary Resources" can be found at our Site FAQ.  This site is now associated with christianglobe.com

Spirit Networks
1045 King Crescent
Golden, British Columbia
V0A 1H2

SCRIPTURAL INDEX

sslr-sm