Sermon delivered on the Fourth Sunday in Advent the 24th December 2017 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: 2 Sam 7: 1-11, 16     Romans 16:25-27     S. Luke 1:26-38

S. Luke 1:32f The words of the angel Gabriel: "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there will be no end."

I do not doubt that our homes and property in general are of considerable importance for every one of us here today. While we should have a right regard and enjoyment of it, there should not be an inordinate desire or fixation upon it. In the last Sunday of Advent and on the cusp of the beginning of Christmas, however, we are invited to reflect, first, that to the place where we might ultimately take our character, our ideals, our faith and our souls, none of us can take any of his physical property. Yes, we might take with us in our souls what we have given away to others, and we might take with us in our souls whatever we may have stamped upon the world; but what we selfishly kept for ourselves, must be stripped from us. I have heard of deceased people being given solemn burials in their favourite motor-cars; still it was the empty shell of his body that was buried with the car, and not the real person. The real person would arrive where he was going without the vehicle, or any other part of his earthly property – unless, for him, he and his possessions were invested on earth in the true House, the eternal House of prayer for all nations.

In the account in S. Luke of the Annunciation (or announcement) of the Birth of Christ to the Virgin Mary there is much to ponder: for instance, and presumably upon the word of Mary herself, S. Luke’s explicit identification of the angel of the Annunciation as Gabriel; and the trustful and submissive attitude of Mary to the archangel’s words on the basis of her being, as she herself avowed, "the handmaid of the Lord". I think S. Luke invites us to ponder the contrast between the believing, if at first puzzled reaction of the Virgin, and the unbelieving puzzlement of John the Baptist's priestly father Zecharias to the respective angelic announcements about births that were divinely ordered though humanly unlikely. The other Scripture lessons today seem to point us, also, to attend closely to some of the angel’s astonishing words. It seems clear that if Herod had heard or learned of those words, he would have regarded them with enormous concern: for the angel’s words suggested that if Herod purported to occupy the rightful throne over the Jewish people, installed there by the Romans as he was, he was going to have to contend with a much truer and deeper claim for it than was his own claim. For now the Coming One, the Son of the Most High, was being referred to as being able to claim David as his ancestor: Herod, being of Edomite descent, which is to say looking to Esau rather than Jacob as ancestor, could not ever do that. Then in the archangel's words there were those references in the Scriptures to the indestructibility of the throne of David, and about this Coming One it was being said that of His Kingdom there would be no end. The archangel’s words also meant that in this Coming One the ancient division of Israel into the divided kingdoms of north and south would be ended: for He would reign not just over the house of David or the house of Judah, but over the house of Jacob, and not just for a time, but for ever. So we can say that if the terms of the Archangel Gabriel's proclamation had got out, and over the following months had reached the ears of this jealous king, it wouldn't be just what the wise men from the east had told him that occasioned his fury and the assassination of the infant boys of Bethlehem.

How, indeed, are the astonishing words of the angelic announcement fulfilled? The Old Testament Lesson from 2 Samuel, which a commentary of mine refers to as “a key passage in the history of salvation”, invites us to recognise that though David's son Solomon built the house of the Lord, the truer "House" that God was establishing would be the responsibility of a truer son than Solomon was. Now the commentaries tell us that we can identify several separate shades of meaning in the word for “house” that is used in this chapter, chapter 7 of 2 Samuel. King David started by considering his own house, which we could say was a palace because he was a king. From this starting point he moves on to consider a house of God, which is a temple rather than a house in the ordinary sense. From this level of “house” as temple or house of God, however, the thought shifts to the “house” that God promises to establish for David and his descendants, and this can be referred to as a “dynasty”. This promise is nothing less than the establishment of the Davidic covenant. The short New Testament Lesson from S. Paul's epistle to the Romans reminds us of S. Paul's further perspective that through Jesus Christ the nations of the world were fellow-heirs of the spiritual riches of Israel. Paul says that the “mystery” that was kept secret for long ages has now been disclosed and made known to all nations. So the truer "House" that God was now establishing would be a house of prayer for all nations, not for the descendants of Jacob only, and the throne of David too would through Jesus Christ be an everlasting throne over all the world. So Herod need not have jumped to the conclusions he did. The King of the Jews that the wise men from the East had talked to Herod about had no need to compete with him for his relatively unimportant if rather splendid palace. Later it was said that a sword would pierce the heart of Jesus' mother; and she was to learn that to build the eternal House of prayer for all nations and to occupy or give allegiance to such a throne as her Son was called to, would involve for Him and all who loved Him a passion, a death, and a rising again. There is not one of us here too, that is named by Christ in Baptism and continues to walk in His Name, that will be untouched by the mighty call of that House and that throne, and that will be unmarked by the sword that pierced the soul of His mother.

He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.” The Christ who was announced by the angel Gabriel to the trustful and obedient Mother invites us all to His House and Kingdom. His call is a mighty one. The sword that accompanies it may at times be sharp, but this King’s House is the most beautiful and social and joyful and lasting of all.