The fulfillment of hope, especially divine hope, fundamental hope, does not rest on intricately calculated human plans, in which we chart the future according to algorithms that never vary and on the basis of mathematical certainty await the fulfillment of our calculations. Perhaps this works for 401k plans, but Messianic hope is far more significant than investment strategies.
King David had a plan to build God a house (bêt in Hebrew), which here indicates the Temple. David wanted to build the house of God, and initially the prophet Nathan encouraged him in his plan. But Nathan received the word of the Lord that directed David not to build a bêt for God, for God would build David a bêt, a dynastic house.
This prophecy seems straightforward when Nathan speaks God’s word to David: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Again David is promised, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” Is there a question as to what the Davidic kingdom will be?
Such Messianic promises are scattered throughout the Old Testament, including Psalm 89, where God says of the king, “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm. I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure.” A king forever on the Davidic throne.
We can understand why it was such a crushing blow when the house of David fell with the Babylonian conquest. The house of God was reduced to rubble, the leaders of the people marched into exile, and a king on David’s throne was nowhere to be found. When the Persians allowed the Judeans to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple, hopes for a restored Davidic kingship began to grow, and they expanded as the king was considered more and more in the light of eschatological and cosmic hopes. God’s kingdom would be established as a kingdom to end all kingdoms.
This would not be an ordinary kingdom, but one that drew all nations to it, that foretold a time of peace and prosperity, that would fulfill the hopes and longings of a people bereft of a king for so long. It was their God, of course, the only, true, living God, who would act to establish this kingdom soon. Whenever and however God would do it, its establishment could not be missed.
Unless, of course, the promise was fulfilled through a young virgin, yet to be married, and her infant son, born in the lowliest of circumstances. Mary asks the question, when instructed by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” It’s an excellent question. We might ask other questions, such as “Why do it this way? Why an infant child? Why not a king like David, seated on an earthly throne, attracting all to him with his glory and power?”
The angel Gabriel says to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
With Mary and the Jews at Jesus’ time, we might say that we did not see this coming. But as Gabriel says of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, “nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary’s final response is calm acceptance: “Let it be with me according to your word.”
As we reflect on how God has confounded human expectations in the past, only to fulfill these hopes more majestically than we could imagine, we need these words on our lips at Christmas: “Nothing will be impossible with God.” However God will do it, be ready, for God fulfills hope in ways never before imagined. We need to be able to say with Mary: “Let it be with me according to your word.”