2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 and Luke 1:26-55
In this passage from 2 Samuel- it says God never wanted a temple. A tent is good enough. Movable. To move with us. These many months of not being in our church building wear on us- but it is something we’ll never take for granted again- and we will remember taking our worship service to an online forum and here in the outdoors. And yes we believe God is with us wherever we are, however we are able to worship.
But the passage goes on to talk about how the lineage of David would be secured, his throne established forever. One from the line of David, and if you know the story, David was a humble shepherd boy. The smallest, the one they thought shouldn’t even be considered. His throne would be established forever, and we read this passage now because we as Christians believe this was fulfilled in Jesus.
I just recently considered this in a new way- it occurred to me that it was never really about the bloodline, like for regular royal lineage. To say one from the line of David was really about the kind of king he would be- where he would come from, what he would really want to accomplish in his rule. I had always heard, well, it was because David was such a great king, they looked for another who would be like that, fair and after God’s heart and to bring peace to the land. But I think that is not quite all of it. It has to do with what is in the heart, and that is to lift up the lowly, to be humble, not take kingship as power over people. A shepherd boy always on the inside.
And we Christians say that Jesus is this one who is established on the throne of David forever. But Mary’s song says, no powerful king can stay on the throne, God pulls them down. So which is it?
Backing up a little, Luke’s gospel tells us about not one but two surprise pregnancies in women who for different reasons didn’t think it was possible. Elizabeth is carrying John the Baptist, who leaps in her womb when he hears Mary’s voice, at her advanced age. First the angel Gabriel tells Mary what’s going to happen, and we don’t know how she took the news, he has to say, don’t be afraid -like angels usually do. She accepts what Gabriel has declared and then goes to see her cousin, the other seemingly impossible carrier of new life.
And its when they are together- when John leaps for joy within Elizabeth, and she prophecies in the moment that Mary is carrying none other than her Lord- that Mary breaks into song, a song that is first a song of joy, of praise. She recognizes how God has seen her and she rejoices in being gazed upon in love. I read this beautiful commentary by Debie Thomas and she reminded me how so often in Christianity, we are instructed in another direction, to avoid that gaze, to think of it as harsh and judging, so that we want to shrink away and not call attention to ourselves. But Mary senses God looking upon her, favoring her, and she looks right back and praises God for how God sees her, as beloved, favored, and capable of this so very important task of carrying within her the very Son of God.
She goes on telling of what God has done before, what she sees as the way of God that repeats over and over in this world- showing mercy, and showing strength. Pulling away power that is not legitimate, undoing hierarchies set up to keep some people controlling the lives of others, and lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry. This is a song of hope for those who need it the most.
In her song She tells of how in that moment, God’s message coming to her in the angel Gabriel, a shadow of the Holy Spirit that made a child grow within her, the encounter with her pregnant cousin who called her blessed- how that moment is God keeping his promise. God is once again putting a humble person into a place of authority, for the good of all.
For those who are not humble, who do not look to lift up, this song is a dangerous song.
In my time as volunteer missionary in Argentina, I had the honor to meet some of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are a group of women whose children were taken in a dirty war meant to cripple those of different political goals and ideologies. This happened in 1976-1982, they are called The disappeared ones, about 30,000 people, young people who were taken. Under the dictatorship in power their mothers were not allowed to fill a plaza to protest, but they could walk through a plaza. So they walked in a circle in the plaza de Mayo, the one right out front of the building that would be comparable to the white house for us, the seat of executive power. Mothers whose children were taken from them did what they could to fight to get their children, or at least find out what happened to them. The government was never very forthcoming in telling what had happened, so for decades after they continued a weekly vigil of walking their circle in the plaza. I don’t remember learning this before, but in that moment of deep loss, of abuse of power taking and killing their children, the mothers plastered the words of Mary’s song all over the buildings near the plaza. They were forbidden from doing so. – then quoting this song, putting it down in written form on placards at all became forbidden, too.
This song is a dangerous song to powerful people. It is a song that speaks of the God of heaven being completely against power that lifts up some as more important than others, intentionally hurting anyone. It is a song that has been forbidden by other nations who were oppressing their people throughout history.
But Mary’s song is a song that borrows from the whole history of the people of Israel, it is a song that echoes Miriam and Deborah and other prophets. It is a song of pure hope.
I am reading a novel, my library’s back to loaning books, it makes me so happy. And the latest novel I’m reading is the Water Dancer by Ta- Nehisi Coates. This novel has taken me into the pure ugliness of slavery in America, the despicable way persons were treated as property, but also has helped me imagine what it feels like to go from being under that rod, literally, to freedom. How expansive freedom feels, what a release. How hope for that freedom is a powerful thing.
But the book also does not shy away from just how much white people benefitted from that system and how they had an ugliness in their souls that they had to feed, lies they had to tell themselves in order to be able to keep doing it, keep buying and selling people and forcing them to labor with no wages.
And reading again Mary’s song this week I have to tell you that it’s made me think about all of the ways people try to hold others down, all of the ways some people are chained to something that they don’t need to be chained to- all the lies we tell ourselves to keep going in things deep down we know are not right. Yes dictatorships yes slavery these are the big ones, the obvious answers but I started thinking about how this is true in other ways right now also: how in our country right now two political parties demonize one another and blame one another instead working together for the good of all- how just being in power has become the only thing to so many of them, or at least it seems that way to me. How our economy fails so many people who work so hard and still don’t have enough to eat and pay the rent. How we continue to deny discrimination on skin tone and accent is real, because it would be too hard to work for real transformation; how some people still feel they have to hide who they truly are inside, how tv personalities can outright lie about the COVID vaccine- I’m not saying being cautious about it is bad, caution has its place- I know I’ll be getting it as soon as its my turn, but people are outright lying about it, abusing what is supposed to be the honor of journalism, to bring information to people, instead all they care about are the ratings. These are abuses of people, lies and chains and sin that benefit some at the cost of others.
In the big scheme of things there are despots and dictators, on the smaller scheme there are bullies and liars, every use of power that does not lift up; everything meant to squash someone else for personal gain- this is all of what God wants to pull off the throne, remove from power. Jesus, the lowly baby born to a lowly unwed teenager, is the very son of God. That is how God does it.
That is how his throne is established forever- he lived out pure love, he showed in action that God lifts up humble, not entitled, poor, not rich, hungry not full ones. And as Jesus went around in his ministry he talked about this kingdom of God, of which he was the king though he never claimed that title for himself.
We do say Jesus is on the throne forever- as our humble king, the ruler who is always looking to lift up, not squash. God does not live in grand palaces: according to 2 Samuel, God never wanted to. God wanted to be free to be on the move. Where is God on the move today?- Mary’s song tells us that wherever a hungry belly is filled, God is there. Wherever illegitimate power and hierarchy are de-throned, God is there. Wherever the ways of humility and mercy and sharing prevail, God is there.
Mary had the supreme blessing of being able to bear the very son of God within her – beloved so do we. That is Advent, preparing ourselves for how at this time, God wishes to dwell in us, what lies and chains we need to throw out. What ways we live out Jesus’ kingdom of equality, radical equality based on mercy here and now. And let us sing, in our hearts, the song of hope for all to be truly free, to truly know the blessing of God’s loving look of favor upon us, God in our midst even here, even now, Amen.