Advent 4 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:26-38
The Advent gifts ‘gifts God can’t wait to give’ just keep coming. We have had the lit candle – a sign of the light of hope in the darkness; the Word of God, which brings comfort; and the water – to remind us of John the Baptist and the promise of new life. This week’s final gift is…a child (photo of a baby), which reminds us that God decides how he will come into this world.
The idea that a child can be God’s gift to us is certainly not earth-shattering. I had a friend who used to joke ‘children are a gift from God – don’t tell him where you live!’. But Advent tells us that God does not just give us the gift of a child – but that the child who comes is God’s gift of himself.
We know this – it is why we sing ‘O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Immanuel – God with us’.
But you might wonder about the relevance of the reading from the second book of Samuel, where David wants to construct a home for God. Through the prophet Nathan God makes it clear that he, God, will decide how and when he will be present with David. God reminds David of all that he has done for him – bring with him al his life as he lifted from obscurity and caring for sheep to be the most renowned king of Israel. Instead of David making a home for God, God promises to make a house for David – a family line which will stretch through the generations, all the way to Joseph and therefore to Jesus.
God does not need David to build him a house – God will decide how he will be present with God’s people. And when the time is right, God will not come to dwell in a house at all, but in the most unexpected way possible.
The gospel reading from Luke takes us to the very start of God’s plan to dwell with us – which we know as our Christmas story.
The angel Gabriel appears to Mary & tells her she will have the child who is to be the sign of God with us – the Immanuel – the incarnate son of God. God chooses Mary – God chooses birth – God chooses to be truly human. Mary agrees – and The Word is made flesh.
Depending on which gospel account you read, the angel also appears to Joseph to tell him not to be afraid to marry Mary as he had planned – and the couple who are chosen by God to be the parents of Jesus are all sorted out.
After that it might feel as if the plans go awry: first there is the Roman census which bring the couple & everyone else of David’s line to Bethlehem – just as the baby is due to be born. Then there is no room at the inn, and so the God of all creation is laid in a manger.
After the careful planning to be brought into the world, we might be tempted to think that God has let the planning slip rather – and allowed the birth to take place in less than ideal surroundings.
But when Luke tells us about the angels appearing to the shepherds there are songs of great rejoicing - good news to all the earth. Then the angels say a strange thing ‘this will be a sign to you. You will find the child wrapped us and lying in a manger’.
A sign to recognize Jesus? But the star and the angels take the shepherd to the place – surely there aren’t a huge number of babies born in Bethlehem that night , that the only way to recognize Jesus is that he is the one in the manger. So if the sign isn’t about identification of the right baby, of what is it a sign?
We immediately associate the word manger with our nativity scenes, with the account of Jesus’ birth. But of course a manger is the feeding trough for the common animals of Jesus’ time – the donkey, the cattle, the sheep and goats.
The sign which the angels refer to could be just this – that this Jesus who has come to dwell with us has come to be foodstuff, like straw in a manger – he has come to feed the world.
This is the child who will grow to feed the five thousand.
This is the child who will grow to offer his friends bread & wine and say ‘this is my body, broken for you’ ‘my blood, poured out for you’.
This is the child who will give up his life so that the whole world may know life in all its fullness.
Christ is born and is laid in a manger – as a sign that God is here to dwell with us and to feed and heal and change the world.
And so our Advent gift is of the baby who is truly God with us , for us, in us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.