FLOUTING RESPECTABILITY – Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B

December 20, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 or Luke 1:46b-55
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29 (2a)
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Respectable gods know their place—and like it there. They enjoy having temples built in their honor, especially when they are located where the action is, near people and places of power. These gods prefer to avoid backwater towns and don’t generally mix with humans of little or no status. In fact, they mostly like to stay out of human affairs and avoid meddling in politics—except by way of bolstering the status quo. As long as the sacrifices, the incense, and the money keep coming, they’re pretty happy.

The Holy One of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is a continuing source of disappointment for those who desire a respectable God. Through the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 7:1-17), David is reminded that long before the king had established a capital city for himself in Jerusalem, God was quite at home dwelling in a tent among the people. The God of Israel was their companion in the desert and remained in their midst through the foray into a new land—with no need for a permanent home built of stone. And lest David should forget his own humble roots, the Holy One reminds him that he is no self-made man; rather, God took him “from the pasture, from following the sheep to be a prince” over Israel (2 Sam 7:8).

As Advent rushes toward Christmas, today’s Gospel reading recounts the annunciation to Mary. Like the rest of Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus, today’s passage proclaims a God who once again confounds our standards of respectability. The angel Gabriel is sent not to the Temple nor to the capital city nor to the home of a prominent family, but rather to a young unmarried woman in an obscure town far from the movers and shakers of the Jewish establishment and the Roman occupiers.

In many of our communities during the coming week, we will hear more of Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth—a story that points to a God who flouts human standards of respectability even further. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is born to a poor family whose life has been disrupted by imperial decree. The newborn child is laid to rest in a feeding trough because his parents were unable to find suitable accommodations. Although angels sing of his birth, their news is entrusted to poor shepherds.

Just as the Holy One was satisfied to dwell among the people in a tent, so too “the Word became flesh and lived (literally, ‘pitched a tent’) among us (John 1:14). As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this week, today’s Scripture readings offer us the opportunity to hear good news of a God who sets aside respectability in favor of the lowly, the marginalized, and the insignificant. With Mary we proclaim the greatness of God who has “lifted up the lowly” and “filled the hungry with good things” (Lk 1:52-53).

Come, Emmanuel!

A Hymn for Today: “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came”

This hymnic paraphrase of today’s Gospel reading is a free rendering of a Basque carol that was in turn based on a thirteenth or fourteenth century Latin hymn. It seems likely that Sabine Baring-Gould first came across this carol during time that he spent in the Basque country as a boy.

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
with wings as drifted snow, with eyes aflame:
“All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary,
most highly favored lady.” Gloria!

“For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
all generations laud and honor thee;
thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
most highly favored lady.” Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head;
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said.
“My soul shall laud and magnify God’s holy name.”
Most highly favored lady, Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
in Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn,
and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
“Most highly favored lady.” Gloria!

Text: Basque carol; para. Sabine Baring-Gould, 1834-1924
Tune: GABRIEL’S MESSAGE; Basque carol

Image Credit: Annunciation to Mary, Father George Saget, 1963

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.