Thursday, December 20, 2012

Advent 2012 : Day 19

O Clavis David

Christ is the Key

that opens every door:

that unlocks bound-up heaven

that unlocks bound-up hell;

that overturns our fear with love

our enmity with friendship

our boastful pride with quiet modesty

our riches with emptiness

our emptiness with riches.

Christ is the Key

that opens every door:

that unlocks bound-up earth

that unlocks bound-up heaven;

that overturns our rule with grace

our wounds with healing balm

our brokenness with noble company

our dignity with troubled minds

our troubled minds with dignity.

Christ is the Key.

By the time John comes to write his Gospel, at the end of his long life, he has come to understand that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Later still, the Church comes to articulate the Doctrine of the Trinity. I believe that it was the Holy Spirit that led them to these points. But I also believe that it is anachronistic to think that Mary understood Gabriel’s message (Luke 1:26-38), that her son would be known as the Son of the Most High and the Son of God, to mean that she would give birth to the Second Person of the Trinity. This description – without any claim to divinity – was ascribed to king David; and Mary would have understood the angel’s message as God’s intent to restore David’s kingdom.

This raises a problem for Mary: she is a virgin. Her question – How will this be? – ought not to be understood as a question of mechanics (how can I become pregnant? – news that a bride will become a mother is not unusual) but of significance: how can a virgin giving birth to a son signify the restoration of David’s kingdom, when the Scriptural precedent is that a virgin giving birth to a son signifies that the Davidic line of kings is soon to come to an end? (Isaiah 7 – and, indeed, the following several chapters – read far enough, and you’ll come across yesterday’s Root of Jesse. In the immediate, the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed, while the southern kingdom of Judah was besieged but delivered: it was, however, to be the Beginning of the End.) (Here I am not denying the traditional Doctrine of the Virgin Birth, but rather denying the unscriptural belief that it signifies something unique, without precedent.)

Likewise, Gabriel’s response is not concerned with mechanics (how God will do this – Scripture is rarely if ever concerned with how God does things, which is why faith and science are not incompatible but complementary) but with significance: what previously symbolised God giving his people over into the hands of their enemies will be reversed because God’s presence is about to return to his people, and his protective presence will cover them. As in Isaiah’s time, the people are about to be destroyed. Yet in this moment of crisis, God will reverse the fortunes of the people, bringing down false rulers and raising up the humble (as Mary recognises in her song of praise, Luke 1:46-55).

So God is about to do something which will restore a Davidic king on David’s throne. And here is why it is important that we understand Son of God to refer to Son of (his father) David, and not jump straight to Second Person of the Trinity: David is king for many years before he takes up his throne; years spent hidden in a cave, while those broken by Saul’s mad reign are drawn to him and find themselves formed into a community of Mighty men and women. This is the significance, as in Advent we look to Christ’s return, to his taking his throne: that Mary’s son, the hidden king, receives the broken and confers upon them dignity and purpose, still.

O Clavis David

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;

you open and no one can shut

you shut and no one can open:

Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,

those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

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