Based on the Scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18th 2011.
As a way of testing his servants God will sometimes permit setbacks after having guaranteed success. Take for instance, King David of Israel. Through the prophet Nathan, the Lord said, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” This promise was made around the year 1000 B.C. Yet, two generations later under Rehoboam’s reign (King David’s grandson), Israel split into two countries: Israel, also known as the northern Kingdom separated from Judah, also known as the southern kingdom. Ten tribes went to Israel and two tribes went to Judah. King David was of the tribe of Judah, one out of the two tribes belonging to the nation also known as Judah. His royal lineage would continue in Judah where the city of Jerusalem was located.
However, not even five hundred years after the promise given to King David by God, the last king of Judah was Zedekia in the year 586 B.C. After 586 B.C. there were no more functioning kings in Jerusalem because the nation of Judah had been dominated by other world powers such as the Babylonian Empire and Persian Empire. The throne was literally empty for over five hundred years before the birth of Christ. As the throne stood vacant the Jews faith must have been put to the test. After all, the Lord said to King David that his kingdom will "endure forever." Yet there were no kings in Judah for several centuries.
Nevertheless, King David’s father-to-son lineage was never broken; a kind of miracle in itself. Although his descendants were not functioning as political rulers the royal lineage was preserved. And it was from this lineage- during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus -that God’s promise would be realized. Indeed, the prophet Isaiah foretold that “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse [David’s father], and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1) This bud was none other than the Messiah who was God’s only begotten Son, the King of Kings. This is why the Jewish people, on several occasions, referred to our Lord as the “Son of David.” But the same prophet also indicated that the Messiah would not be cloaked with political clout or with worldly greatness. Indeed, he would go unnoticed by many important people. Isaiah said, "He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him." (53:2)
From King Zedekia, the last functioning king Judah in 586 B.C., to the birth of Christ, it seemed to the naked eye that David’s kingdom did not last forever. Yet, the unbroken family tree from King David’s loins was quietly preserved as the throne in Judah stood vacant. Looks can be deceiving.
When we come to the Annunciation in Luke chapter 1 we also find a promise given by God only to be followed by circumstances which seem to undermine that promise. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary it sounded as if the description of her Son, the Messiah, was so lofty and exalted that his mission would be smooth sailing. Indeed, the archangel provided her an impressive resume. He said, “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Yet not even a year after this promise was spoken, King Herod tried to kill the newborn Messiah. As a result, the Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt. And just forty days after his birth, Simeon, a holy man, prophetically gave indication to Mary in the Temple that the mission of her Son would be greatly tested. Indeed, at times Christ’s mission will appear to have failed. He warned the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Because her Son would be contradicted by his own people her spirit would suffer a kind of martyrdom.
However, God mercifully prepares his servants for future trials. He provided a kind of Good Friday rehearsal for the Mary many years before Good Friday. When Jesus, at the age of twelve, decided to stay back in Jerusalem, teaching and preaching in the Temple, it would be three long days before Mary and Joseph knew that their Son was unharmed. Can anyone doubt that the Blessed Virgin’s faith in God’s promise, spoken through the angel Gabriel, was put to the test as she frantically searched for her Son? When she first found Jesus in the Temple you can almost hear the anxiety and worry in her voice. Several years later God’s promise would be put to the test yet again on Calvary. When Christ died on the Cross, it would have seemed to onlookers that he was not to rule over the house of Jacob forever after all. Even the two disciples walking to Emmaus two days after the crucifixion thought that God’s promise had somehow been defeated by evil. Yet, we know this is far from the truth.
The lesson we can take away from God’s promise to King David and to the Blessed Virgin is this: God will often reveal a promise to us while also permitting circumstances to “seemingly” undermine that promise. This is how he tests our faith. He doesn’t want us to rely solely on our senses; that is, what we can see, hear, touch etc. As such, we need to peer beneath the surface. Life can give the appearance that adversity and evil get the upper hand. But with the eyes of faith the layers of life can be peeled back. What we will undoubtedly find is that God is continuing his work without interruption.
With all that is happening in our world today it is vitally important for the Christian to have this vision of God's providence. It is vitally important that Christians are a people of hope who have their heavenly homeland in view. Sometimes when things look grim, we have to meditate on the words of Christ: "I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world."