12.17.2008

4th Sunday in Advent

2 Samuel 7:1 - 11, 16
Luke 1:46b - 55
Romans 16: 25 - 27
Luke 1: 26 - 38

Have you ever been listening to a very small child - one who is trying really hard to find the right words to tell you the perfect story, stumbling and sputtering and dragging on - and found that it is really hard for you as the adult to listen and not finish their sentences? You try and you try, but eventually you offer the word that you would use, or you complete their thought or sentence...maybe putting a question mark at the end, as if you are just checking in. Right?

Or maybe you've been in a conversation with an adult who has problems speaking. Perhaps they stutter or have had a stroke. While they physically reach for the words they want to say, you find yourself nodding encouragement or even leaning forward and eventually helpfully filling in for them.

Some of us even are just such fast thinkers (and are so confident in our interpersonal skills) and talkers that we rather regularly end sentences for others, assuming we know where the story/question/explanation is going and go right ahead and respond out of our own expectation of what will be said.

We have all heard it, but it is true again and again, we have to listen as much (maybe more) than we speak to be in relationship with others. To really respect and love the other, we have to listen and hear their needs.

This week, our scripture readings draw attention to our tendency to do this – to assume that we know what comes next in the conversation and to finish it based on what we think we know, which comes out of our experiences, our life, our thinking and our words. We see David (and Nathan) learning that lesson. And we see Mary learning that lesson...actually, maybe she is teaching the class.

In the passage from 2 Samuel, we see David, who has built himself a grand home of cedar, is inspired to next build one to house the Ark of the Covenant, which has traveled with the tribes in a tent for lo these many years. Israel's God needs a dignified dwelling place, right? Well, the Lord has a different perspective. God speaks to the prophet Nathan, instructing him to rebuke David – are YOU the one to build me a house? All of these years God has been out ahead of the people. And God's indignation is pretty clear – I will find a place for the people, NOT vice versa. But really, David didn't mean any harm...he liked having a spot. God would probably like a spot too, right?

The passage from Romans is really a benediction – To God be the glory – the God of all the ages, through the telling of the prophets, the revelations of the gospels, through Paul's own ministry, knows how this story goes and who should put the period on the sentences.

Let's look at the Luke readings together, although the Song of Mary, or "the Magnificat" as it is also commonly known, is really offered as an alternate psalm. Reading the two selections together, we witness Mary hearing unbelievable news from the angel Gabriel. And the news is really incomplete. Mary, a virgin, is going to give birth. When she asks how, she doesn't get a really comprehensible answer...the spirit of the Lord will come upon you. Hmm. How about that? But she does not stumble or assume or interrupt. She listens and praises. Let it be with me according to your will. My soul magnifies the Lord. With humility, with passion, with grace, Mary listens and then lives out what she has heard and understood. Not easy to do, is it?

Are there places in your life where you are more like David--making assumptions and "finishing the sentence" for God?
Are there times in your life where you are able to sit and listen when you are confronted with surprising circumstances by God?
How do we balance asserting with listening and waiting?

I have traveled many moonless nights,
Cold and weary with a babe inside,
And i wonder what i've done.
Holy father you have come,
And chosen me now to carry your son.

I am waiting in a silent prayer.
I am frightened by the load i bear.
In a world as cold as stone,
Must i walk this path alone?
Be with me now.
Be with me now.

Breath of Heaven, Amy Grant, 1992

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