The Mystery and Scandal of Particularity: A sermon or the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Scriptures for the Fourth Sunday of Advent:

King David, once a shepherd boy, the youngest of his brothers, now he has secured his position as king of Israel and the territorial integrity of Israel. With a fine palace to show for it, while the god of Israel has a tent and not a palace. The ark of the covenant is still in the tabernacle. David want’s something more impressive for the creator of all things and the god of Israel. David wants ot do what other Kings do for their god’s build God a proper temple and solidify the relationship between the God of Israel and the King of Israel.

God, Adonai, doesn’t see it that way and opposes this idea. God is content with the tent and the ark on the move among the people. God reminds David that not long ago God chose David when he was just the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd boy. David should not imagine that he could be like other kings of the nation’s equating himself with his God, as he solidifies his power. After all it is God who chose David and established David and rather than build God a house God says he will establish David’s house. God prefers to be among God’s people, God has done and will do just fine with the tent. The tabernacle suits the creator of all that is just fine.

The history of Israel contradicts God’s promise to David in part because the Kings of Israel and Judah never escaped this idea that the gods legitimate the power of kings and their princes. God of Israel wouldn’t be so used, and through the prophets consistently declared that God wasn’t on the side of kings and princes and the rich and powerful even if they were technically god’s anointed. The God of Israel and all that is, was concerned for the poor the oppressed and the needy and sided with them not with the powerful and wealthy who oppressed.

God doesn’t need David’s power and prestige, and God isn’t going to let David think he can establish the relationship between him and God. God is free, God acts, David and we respond to God’s action in the world. David wants to connect his success and his sovereignty as King to God, by establishing a temple and cult for God (and Solomon will do this). God refuses the equation, and reprimands David for the idea telling David that on this God has been clear; While God has given David his position as King in Israel, he wasn’t the first “shepherd” of Israel and God has never desired a central location, God chose Israel as God chose David, as God chose the other leaders of Israel, but it isn’t to make the equation between David and God, God and David. The God of all creation is the God of Israel, this is a difference, Adonai isn’t a tribal God, though God cares for and desires good for Israel and Israel’s King, David.

The confusion of David and even the prophet Nathan, is a confusion that one can trace through much of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is a mistaken conclusion based the God of Creation, interacting with the created order in its minutia to achieve global ends. This is what some have called the scandal of particularity. As God renews a relationship with humanity, God does so through particular persons and times. The temptation is to believe that choice means that time or person or place is on its own terms special, rather than point out God’s way of doing things. We may have some understanding of God through the universal character of God as creator, but we come to know god personally through God’s choices, first of Abraham and Sarah.  The God of Israel is always the God who meets us through others of God’s choosing.

St. Gabriel, Archangel – 7 1/4″ x 5 1/2″

When God sends the messenger Gabriel, to announce to Mary God’s intention that she is chosen, this is in line with God’s actions throughout time. Abraham and Sarah were no one of significance to the emerging States and the powerful of their time. We are told that Mary is a descendent of David. The promise to David is kept, but that promise was always for God’s purposes, as God renews a relationship with each of us and all creation. Mary a descendent of David, a member of the people of God, young just beginning her journey of life, see’s something that her Ancestor David failed to see, though God tried to remind David of this, tried to get him to see that God isn’t about power in the way kings and the powerful among humanity understand power. Mary see’s that God is set against those who try to dominate. God’s deeds of power lift those we who look for prestige and power ignore. God moves among the people not among the halls of power.

We remember Mary and her ancestor David, and Sarah and Abraham. Mary is and isn’t special. She is among the long list of those whom God has chosen in specific times and places to participate in God’s plan to restore a relationship with God. God choose particular persons, like Mary, and a particular nation, Israel, to relate to each of us personally.

This confounds us, this is the mystery that was hidden but is now revealed in Jesus Christ, that the God creator universe, of the vast expanse of Galaxies upon galaxies, cares for the minutia of the universe. God doesn’t think like a human managing some vast realm or corporation, letting others attend to the minor workers, the janitors, the easily forgettable workers. God isn’t limited like us, able only to care so much, God relates to all creation in all its particularity and minutia, not in distant only in its global and universal aspects.

Each of us through Jesus Christ and the Spirit, are like these ancestors of our faith, Mary and David and Sarah. Through them we know that God doesn’t reside in the halls of power neither in Washington, in congress or the Whitehouse, nor internationally in New York at the U.N. God moves among us whom the rich and powerful care little about, and give little thought except when they need us to vote, or buy something, or work for them. God isn’t like the powerful.

Through Mary God is one of us in her child Jesus. God was and is and will always be God with us, joined to our human flesh and God’s creation through this descendant of David, Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, a Jewish Palestinian peasant who lived far from the powerful and the rich who except for God, would have long been forgotten by the world and the rich and powerful.

This is what we are called to embrace that God cares for us in our seeming insignificance and powerlessness, that the rich and powerful seek to hide from. God doesn’t deal with us as an anonymous collective of being to be controlled but comes to us and deals with us in our particularity, and did so by forever becoming one of us, Jesus of Nazareth. And so we remember Mary and honor her, and consider her blessed, because it is through her that we know God and it is through her particularity that God comes to us and meets each of us in our own personhood. This is what we are about to celebrate, this astounding love of the creator of all that is.