Out of Jewish imaginative engagement with its sacred texts there is a disquieting legend of the beginnings of creation, where God sends forth his first creation Wisdom into the world. She travels far and wide visiting all the places where people live – nations and cities, villages and clans. But in this particular story Wisdom finds no home where people dwell as they are only godless, hateful, violent places. In the end Wisdom returns to her maker, exiled and unfulfilled. It is a poignant and pessimistic tale of a world that is so broken that there is no place left for the beauty and purpose of God within it. Perhaps this strikes a cord with us also in our world where the echo of God is hard to find; our world, a hard and damaged place, a place of lonely exile for the Wisdom of God.
But today’s readings offer us a different, more challenging narrative. They refuse to paint a picture of a world devoid of God, or to accept that God is distant and remote from this world, even if it is a world brimming with political violence and fearful paranoia. In the second book of Samuel we reach far back into the story of the people of God, back to a world where tribal identities have only just given way to a new governing principle, that of monarchy. This new monarchy has been spectacularly successful as the young King David has radically expanded his territory and for the first time Israel is a political and military force to be reckoned with. But where is God in all of this?
First of all he seems completely behind David, with a passionate and almost swooning love. But in another way God is between the lines of the story, offering a different judgement, speaking with a different voice. This voice had first been heard a few pages back in the person of Samuel, thundering against the the dangers of the monarchy, warning that absolute power will corrupt absolutely. And even now, further on into the story, as a triumphant David asks God if he can build him a home, another voice can be heard as a new prophet is sent to question the king. For divine wisdom there is to be no easy domestication, no simple home built by human hands.
It is as if the writer of Second Samuel is reminding us that God is radically free, never to be bound up in our temples and palaces as they too quickly move from being places of liberation and joy, to places of oppression and shame. Even as God promises that David’s kingdom will last forever, God himself will not be so easily tied down. It seems that God is to remain an exile in this world – a restless Spirit calling the people to new freedoms, challenging their comfort and provoking new forms of justice and community wherever human life threatens to coalesce into centres of domination and control. The God of Israel is a God who dwells on the margins, homeless but free.
Our Gospel today takes us away from the royal palaces and to the insignificant Nazareth and a young unmarried girl who is about as far from the centre of power and influence as it is possible to be. But here the angel announces a radical new beginning, a new homecoming both of God and his people. “You will conceive and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” In the warmth of a virgin’s womb the wandering Word and Wisdom of God will find a home. Erupting into the middle of our humanity, God is at last made known. But even here this birth, this life is not protected, but radically at risk from the forces of darkness and death in our world, royal and political forces that will first strike out at vulnerable children in the violent paranoia of Herod, forces that will drive this young family into exile as refugees, at risk and alone in the world. And finally the Wisdom coming to birth right at the heart of our humanity, will once more be exiled, broken and alone on the cross, crucified outside the city walls.
At this point in the story, the question as to whether God can find a home in this dangerous and ambitious world, is to be answered by a courageous young woman. As the angel speaks of powerful new beginnings, God’s wild and sacred Spirit hovers over her flesh as it did in those first moments of creation, threatening to bring order our of chaos, provoking a whole world to come into being out of the formlessness of the void. But God’s initiative here depends on this human response, a response of open, trusting love in a moment of vulnerability and fearfulness. Does Mary have the courage to believe this message, does she have the ability to make herself a home for the creative Word and Wisdom of God? With her the whole world waits with bated breath, for her response will dictate the movements of history, for this God prefers to find a home in the depths of our hearts – in all their fragility and wonder – rather than the most ornate of palaces or even the most beautiful of temples.
But God’s search to find a home in this world doesn’t end with Mary, for even now an exiled Wisdom wanders our streets, seeking us out. Just like he did in that encounter with Zaccheus in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus walks past each of us and asks us to invite him in, right into the fragile and conflicted domestications of our own hearts, right into the hustle and bustle of our lives. His question to us is the same he asks of Mary: will you become the God-bearer in this world? Will you carry Christ into its dark and difficult places? Will you make a home for him here?
Let us pray:
Holy God, overshadow our anxious world with your wild and generative power.
Hold us close to your heart when the world’s chaos and fragility threatens to overwhelm us.
Show us how to be peace-makers in a violent world.
Show us how to be love-makers in a frightened world.
Show us how to be hope-bringers in a despairing world.
With our sister Mary, teach us to sing songs of justice and joy that each one of us can hear. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.