When I first read 2 Samuel where God asks about the house to be built for him, but then says, “Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever,” the first thing that popped into my mind was Jesus’s response to his two disciples at his transfiguration. Do you remember what they say to Jesus: “it is good for us to be here, let us build three tabernacles; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Of course before Peter and James can build anything, they’re overwhelmed by God’s own presence: God the Father speaks and says, “this is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And then I was reminded of psalm 127, “unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers build it in vain.” This fits, of course, with God telling the Israelites that he has no need of their offerings and sacrifices, for he is the very definition of perfection; without need of anything more.
Clearly God doesn’t need us to provide a residence for him! He will take up residence where he pleases. And where does he take up residence? In the very lineage of people whom he promised to redeem, to heal, to lead and guide. He doesn’t sit on a heavenly throne or some huge earthly palace. Instead God comes to us. He sends his Son into the world. And that Son takes up residence in a human woman; in her womb he is nurtured and nourished for 9 months. In Mary’s womb, the Son of God resides, waiting to be birthed into a people that did not recognize him as one of them, that in fact, rejected him. And yet, in that womb grew a new life; not just that of the unique God-man, Jesus, but of the God-man, Jesus, who would create a home, a residence, a mansion with many rooms, for every other human being who has or will ever exist.
“How can this be so,” Mary exclaims to the angel who tells her this news, “I’m a virgin.” The answer is of course already there for Mary; present in the stories of her people, in the Scriptures that guided their communal life together, their worship and praise: “The Lord will make you a house and it will be established in you forever.”
This God-man born to Mary is Jewish, by virtue of her lineage, not Joseph’s. Because you see, not only does Joseph’s lineage include Ruth, who is a Moabite, not an Israelite or Jew, Joseph is not actually Jesus’s biological father. So this house that the Lord makes by his indwelling of Mary’s womb, his birth through her, and his giving himself over to Joseph, an adoptive father, in fact unites Jew and gentile, all the world, that is, in himself, as God promised Abraham he would accomplish. In and through this Christ child - Jew and Gentile are united to God not through procreation - are adopted by God the Father. What a jaw dropping reality that spans all of time, mostly unfolding in ways that can never be fully glimpsed by any one person.
So Mary rightly says, “how can this be, how can I be the mother of the Son of God, I’m still a virgin.” Mary’s question really resonates with me. I know how the world works. I look around me and I see and can measure and I can understand how things actually work, how is it possible that God’s promises to heal, to bind up those who are sick, to encompass those who have already died within his grace, how is it possible that this is true? I don’t see it. I look around me and I see pain, poverty, suffering, diseases, greed that seems to win constantly in this world, evil abounding consistently through history, no progress, no change, and a decline of all the things that seem to make life palatable. How is this God-man that promised redemption working in any of this?
Mary knows these questions: That’s just not how reality works. I’m a virgin, Mary says, how can I give birth? The world is a mess Lord, why should I follow your promises?
So what prompts her response: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." What prompts this - I think to us - rather naive response of faith? Well her response, “here am I", a response given by the prophets and servants of the Lord throughout the OT Scriptures, suggests that something breaks through our natural scepticism. And what is it that breaks through that skepticism?
Given her recitation of the words of her ancestors in response to God’s calling, I think what breaks through her skepticism is her humble willingness to act with courage in the face of uncertainty. To take the risk, as did Abraham and David in their own weaknesses and sacrifices, going out from their own homes and thereby offering themselves as God’s witnesses or dwelling places, as did the Moabite gentile Ruth in offering herself to an Israelite man from whom would come the adoptive lineage of Joseph, so did the Jew, Mary in offering herself - under threat of being executed by her own people - offering her own body and womb as God’s dwelling place - to take the risk of trusting in the promises God has made, that had been passed on to her by the people in whom and with whom God has resided.
I was asked once - in fact over a text message by John Kane’s nephew - why anyone would believe in the God of the Christian Scriptures - vs any other god. At the root of his question was: what evidence can you provide. My response was simply this: come into the body of people where God in Jesus Christ resides - into his people whose witness stretches across all of time and all of space. Come and see. Take the risk of seeming foolish to the rich and wise of our age. Accept his call to adoption and then allow yourself to be nurtured by him in the womb of the Church, his own body, being formed and reformed into his own image manifest in this world. To receive God as Mary received is to be cleansed; to be made a virgin for the planting of God’s seed in this world. In this body of Christ’s habitation, be nurtured, and nourished as a baby in a womb, your old ways of seeing and interpreting rewired as you encounter the stories of God working in and through the people of Scripture, people just like you and me. AMEN.