David & Mary; Chalk & Cheese?

Our readings today bring together two very differing characters from the bible both of whom feature in our Christmas carols and have a significant role to play in the Christmas story.
The first, from the old testament is king David. We first meet him as a shepherd, the youngest of eight brothers. He is a gifted musician, skilled at looking after the flock entrusted to his care and fearless in the face of danger. God was clearly with him and blessing him in many ways. God reveals to Samuel that David is to succeed Saul as king of Israel and Samuel anoints him as king without ceremony at Bethlehem hence it becomes David’s city. David and Saul’s lives are thus brought together. Saul realized that God had rejected his sons as heirs. He turns away from God and begins to encounter black moods which lead to a measure of insanity. David is called upon to use his musical talents to calm Saul’s growing agitation. All is well for a time but then Saul falls out with David. The final straw comes when David uses his skill developed keeping wolves away from his sheep to despatch Goliath, the mighty Philistine, killing him with a stone from his sling which landed between the giant’s eyes. Then the women of Israel sang with their tambourines: ‘Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands.’ (1 Samuel 18.7) This made Saul very jealous and he pursues David, but the Lord protects him until Saul’s death when he finally accedes to the throne.
David becomes Israel’s most successful warrior king. By conquest and alliance, he was able to extend his sphere of influence from Egypt and the gulf of Aqabah to the area of the upper Euphrates, that is modern Iraq. In the process, he captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites making it his capital a move that remains highly significant today. David then oversaw the return of the Ark of the Covenant from Kiriath-jearim having it installed in a tabernacle, a marquee type structure in Jerusalem.
It is at this point in the saga of David that we have today’s old testament reading: ‘when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him.’ (2 Samuel 7.1) David tells Nathan, the prophet that he intends to build a temple for the ark of God, the symbol of God’s presence. David infers that a tent is not good enough. But that night, the word of the Lord comes to Nathan. God makes it clear that he has managed with a tent for many years and does want to be rushed into a temple, but the time will come when David’s son Solomon will build a temple. What is significant for us and the Christmas story is that God promises David that his kingdom will be sure forever. (2 Samuel 7.16)
David was far from faultless. Despite these assurances from God, one day, when he was on the roof of his house, he spotted the shapely form of Bathsheba, the wife of one of his commanders, Uriah, bathing nearby. He orders that she is brought to him so that he can have sex with her. She becomes pregnant, but David, as soon as he hears the news tries persuading Uriah to go and sleep with his wife to make the child appear to be his. When that does not work out, David has Uriah placed in the fiercest part of the battle field to ensure that he is killed. He makes the supposed antics of Damien Green look quite tame.
From this we realise that the bible does not cover up the sins of significant people. They are laid bare for history to see. Even though David repents and at least one of the psalms represents his lament for his sins, the deed is done. Disobedience of God’s law has consequences and spoils God’s best plans for us. The final phase of David’s reign is beset by rebellions and personal tragedy as his love child is taken from him. David was richly blessed by God with material, intellectual and spiritual gifts. He was a warrior king with blood on his hands and no angel, but God used him mightily to establish an earthly kingdom at a particular point in history which was to be but the shadow of the kingdom of his great son, Jesus.
Secondly, we come to Mary, the character at the heart of our gospel reading this morning from Luke, words we are familiar with from services of nine lessons and carols. Mary is everything that David was not. Whereas David was easily led astray in the sex department, Mary is known as ‘a pure virgin’. When we meet Mary, we hear that she is engaged to Joseph. Engagement in the Jewish culture of her day was more than the romantic prelude to marriage that we know today. It was a solemn bond between two families who had arranged the marriage. The girl would usually be no more than twelve or thirteen years of age so that her virginity could be assured. A bride price would be paid to the groom, but the bride would remain in her parent’s house until the wedding day when the marriage was consummated. As Luke recounts the traditions which he has received about Mary, he makes it quite clear that while she is bound legally to Joseph, who is of the line of David, the conception of the child is of God.
From this, it follows that Mary is not her own woman. She is subservient to her parents, her husband to be, and ultimately the servant of the Lord. David by contrast as king is at the top of his game. As Israel’s most successful king, he was answerable to no one.
As a warrior king, David makes for war. At the beginning of today’s reading, he is given rest from his enemies, but this was only fleeting. As we learn from the record of the Chronicler, David had blood on his hands and this is the reason who God will not allow him to build the temple. (1 Chronicles 22.8) Mary by contrast is a person of peace. Whereas David destroyed much life, Mary is the means by which life comes into the world. As the mother of Jesus, she gives life to the life giver.
Mary and David could not be more different, yet both are linked in the Christmas story. God’s promise to David of an everlasting kingdom is fulfilled not by the rise of others like him but by the birth of a child who would show the same traits of purity, servanthood and peace as his mother. Great David’s greater son ushers in a kingdom which in every way is the antithesis of the kingdom David ruled over a thousand years before. The Kingdom of God which is at the heart of Jesus’ ministry is the just and gentle rule in the hearts of all who will receive him. It is the kingdom which in the words of the hymn ‘stands and grows forever’.
Yet there was a time and place in God’s economy for the likes of both David and Mary even though they are so very different. It is tempting for us to feel that we have nothing to contribute to what God is doing in his world. To feel that our characters and the gifts which we have at our disposal are not what is needed to grow the kingdom and bring people to Christ in our fast-moving digital age. But as we reflect again on the Christmas story, on David and Mary, on the shepherds and the wise men, the angels and of course Joseph, the often-silent partner of Mary, let us be aware that’s God work continues in this world through all kinds of ordinary people who like Mary may well say ‘How can this be?’ (Luke 1.34) Please remain prayerful, watchful and willing so that we all might serve the Lord as he calls and moves us.
As we prepare for a New Year, may we be like both David and Mary; at our Lord’s disposal.
Advent 4 24.12.2017

Rev'd Jonathan Smith

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