Fourth Sunday Of Advent
The first reading, the Responsorial Psalm, and the gospel reading of this Sunday are tied together by an important Old Testament name – David. Our four gospels, Acts of Apostles, two of Paul’s Letters, and the Book of Revelation connect Jesus to King David, who lived a thousand years earlier. David is the ancestor of Jesus. The New Testament documents do not always find the same route by which to connect David and Jesus but the goal is the same – to legitimize for Jesus the title “Son (descendant) of David.” This title is prominent in all four gospels, but used not at all in the writings attributed to St. Paul. The Gospel of Mark is the pioneer is this endeavor, and the other gospels follow his lead and deepen the connection between Jesus and David. We see this especially in the reading chosen for today from the Gospel of Luke.
The readings begin with a selection from the Second Book of Samuel. After a long struggle filled with guerrilla warfare, massacres, diplomatic conniving, and a largely successful effort to be rid of the House of Saul, David is firmly established in his royal palace. Kings always needed a seer or prophet to guide them. Nathan is David’s house prophet. David expresses his chagrin that he lives in a palace of cedar, while the Ark of God, (the Divine Presence among them), is kept in a mere tent. Nathan wisely answers David, “Do what you please. God is with you.” Nathan experiences a vision to relay to David. The Lord has a better idea, and here it is, “I will make you a house (a dynasty of kings). I will raise up a son (the future King Solomon) after you. He will build a house for my Name. I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me.” Did it really? The Responsorial Psalm 89 continues the “forever theme” of 2 Samuel. But the ruling dynasty of David ended in 587 B.C., when the last of the Davidic Kings was blinded and taken into exile to Babylon.
So what about the “forever promises”? But first a brief nod to the second reading for today. It is the closing paragraph of Paul’s most important letter, the Letter to the Romans. It makes no connection to King David. The committee that selected the liturgical readings after Vatican II would have done better to select the beginning of the Letter to the Romans, where Paul writes of his “gospel concerning his (God’s) Son, descended from David according to the flesh….” The choice of readings is usually excellent, but occasionally one suspects that some on that commit-tee were tired. Again, what about the “forever promises” of 2 Samuel and Psalm 89?
Never underestimate the creativity of scholars of the last part of the first and early years of the second centuries of Christianity. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they solved the problem of the “forever promises” that did not seem to be forever. The solution: the throne of King David is continued in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Messiah). Matthew does this remarkably well in his genealogy of Jesus in which he mentions David not only as the first and most important ancestor of Jesus, but in a mysterious use of the number 14 he repeatedly proclaims Jesus’ royalty as descendant of King David through Jesus’ legal father, Joseph. The explanation of all this must await another time, as we move on to part of Luke’s efforts to connect Jesus and King David. Although Luke will do this again later in his genealogy of Jesus, his first effort is condensed in his story of the Annunciation to Mary, the gospel reading for today.
The story of the Angel Gabriel’s excursion to Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, “who was of the House of David,” is too well-known to be repeated here. Some of the ingredients of the story could use some explanation. The angels greeting (in Luke’s Greek) to Mary is quite standard: Chaire! Although used otherwise as a greeting, here it surely conveys its root meaning, “JOY!” This is followed by a long participle which means “Highly Favored One.” St. Jerome translated this Greek participle into Latin with the famous phrase, “gratia plena,” or “full of grace.” Then comes another greeting used in the Old Testament, “The Lord is with you.” Luke intends this phrase to have a more profound meaning than a mere greeting.
The message: “You will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” All well and good, but in Matthew’s gospel the annunciation and the command to name the child is given to Joseph. Let’s just say, “That’s a different approach. That is Matthew’s theology, Not Luke’s.” The character of the child brings us to Luke’s way of connecting Jesus to King David through a reference to 2 Samuel as given in today’s first reading. He will be great, (an Old Testament attribute of God), and will be called Son of the Most High.” Recall how in Nathan’s vision the Lord says of David’s successor, “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me.” Luke gives this ancient oracle a new meaning. “Most High” (Hebrew Elyon) is a title used for God in the Old Testament and only in Luke’s writings in the New Testament.
Now the connection to King David, the establishment of Jesus’ royal title, and the restoration to the seemingly dead “forever promises” of 2 Samuel: “The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the House of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” All of this is to be accomplished not through a human husband but through the creative power of the Spirit of God, the same Spirit or breath of God which enabled creation in the beginning, as we read in Genesis 1:2, “And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” After some explanation by the angel, Mary accepts, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.” The Incarnation, the greatest event in human history, takes place by the consent of a woman.