18 December 2011
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Advent 4B (RCL)
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 16-26
The readings for this coming Sunday present us with a sustain reflection on the concept of “house.” David wants to build God a house. David now lives in a house of cedar; surely God should as well. Nathan tells David to do what he has in mind, until God appears in a dream and recommends otherwise. In all those years wandering through the desert, God asks, did I live in a house? In all those years in the promised land, when the judges ruled in Israel, asks God, did I ever mention wanting a house? Instead, God moved around with the people. In the desert, whenever God’s glory lifted from the tent, the people struck camp and followed. Whenever they pitched the tent, God’s glory settled on it. The word for glory, in Hebrew, is shekinah. Phil Sellew has argued that Greek words with sk roots come from the Hebrew shekinah. Skene, which we recognize in “scene” is the Greek term for the canvas tent-like background for the tragedies. John’s Gospel uses the related word “skenoo” for what the Word made flesh does among us (John 1:14). Some translations say “dwelt among us”. A more accurate translation would be “pitched his tent among us,” or, Sellew would argue “tabernacled among us.”
God tells David that instead of David building God a house, God will make David a house, a pun meaning dynasty. Then we come to Luke. Gabriel shows up to Mary, and hails her as God’s favored one, already troubling, because the angel applies to Mary terms more appropriate for Caesar. And then he says, “you will bear a son, who will be great, called the son of the Most High, to whom God will give the throne of David and who will rule over the house of Jacob for ever. Mary doesn’t hear anything past, “you will conceive.” She says, “Wait! How is this possible, since I don’t know a man?” The angel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The word “overshadow” in Greek is “episkiazo”, another one of the words in the field of the root sk. The shekinah will over-tabernacle you.
In the second chapter of Acts, this same author tells us that all the disciples were together in the same place, in the house when the Holy Spirit came upon them, with the sound of wind, and tongues of fire, just like the shekinah in the wilderness, cloud and fire. After the destruction of Herod’s Temple, the pressing question for Jews was, “Where do we find God? How do we define ourselves?” Luke’s answer to the question was that God’s glory now dwelt in the Christian community. Didn’t the curtain across the holy of holies tear in two when Jesus died, indicating that the presence of God left the Temple?
Mary is the type of the Church, the tabernacle of God. Precisely in her shame, she becomes the bearer of God. We want a God who is powerful, can set the world to rights, make things go the way they are supposed to. And instead, Mary says yes to a God who grows within her, enters her life precisely through her vulnerability and shame. We put on our Sunday best when we come to church. We don’t want anyone to see our vulnerabilities. How then will God ever come to birth in us. Mary says, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be as you say.” Handmaid implies the status of slavery and all the sexual access that went with it. In Acts, is Luke implying, by the typology of the Church as Mary, that this little, rag-tag, shamed group is in fact God’s tabernacle? It’s moveable. It’s on the Way (Luke’s name for the early Christian movement). Where is God moving us?