Sunday, 24 December 2017

Advent Week 4 Sunday (Year B)

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Game of Thrones has remained popular longer than most television programmes. It is not easy to see why this is the case. The characters are neither more nor less varied than in any other series. The special effects are ones we have become accustomed to. The acting is fine. The storyline tends to be a bit circular with the fortunes of the different houses waxing and waning in the great struggle for world domination. There is a lot of nudity and sex, even more violence and killing, and sustaining those things and everything else that happens, is a thirst for power and control. That is what drives the main characters and is the fundamental explanation of all the other things they get up to.

This Sunday's readings can be understood as providing some of the script of another Game of Thrones. The readings from 2 Samuel 7 and Luke 1 are key parts of a storyline that has been running for centuries, beginning with the anointing of King David, and coming to a first grand finale in the conception of Jesus. He is a child of the House of David, presented to us as being not just another monarch in a long dynasty but as a king by whom an everlasting kingdom will be established. And we believe that we, two millenia after him, are citizens of this enduring kingdom.

Like the television series, this biblical game of thrones has a variety of characters. We meet many of them, the good, the bad and the ugly, as we listen to the genealogies of Jesus Christ. The special effects are indeed special. It may be part of the attraction of the fictional Game of Thrones that it contains, without blinking, magical and preternatural elements. It is an enchanted world, 'medieval' rather than 'modern', stretching the imagination in ways that modern, realistic stories often fail to do.

What about the actors? Well in the biblical game of thrones we speak of actors in a different sense, not of people who impersonate fictional characters, but people who are agents in their own right, men and women called to be prophets and kings, handmaids and apostles, priests and teachers in the construction of an eternal kingdom.

There is a lot of nudity and sex in the House of David but not, curiously, in this first grand finale. 'How can this come about', Mary said, 'since I am a virgin?' There is a lot of violence and killing in the House of David but not, curiously, in this grand finale, except as violence undergone, never as violence perpetrated.
We might feel that there is a lot of circularity in the biblical game of thrones as the relationship between God and God's people waxes and wanes, sometimes strong and happy, sometimes sad and stretched to breaking point, but always rejoining the main theme: 'I will be your God, you will be my people.'

What about power and control? That is the most significant motivation of the fictional Game of Thrones. But in the biblical one it is not a matter of power and control but of things that seem like their very opposites: grace and gift, receptivity and obedience, mindfulness and prayer, gentleness and acceptance.

We can say that the biblical game of thrones is about the mystery hidden in our history. Our history is undoubtedly human: flesh and blood, good and evil, injustice and struggle, aspiration and failure. But our history is redeemably human and the king sent from God is sent for precisely that purpose - to redeem our race and its history. And so He will be holy and will be called not just son of David but Son of God.

We are at the threshold of our celebration of this King's birth. He is the Son of the only wise God and so he is the One worth seeking, the One worth finding, the One worth following. The popularity of Game of Thrones may be because it gives us a more magical, a more colourful, a more imaginative world, than the real one so often seems. But living in what Saint Paul describes as 'the obedience of faith' is the only true mysticism and the only really worthwhile adventure. Its landscape is the one that opens within the only true transcendence in this world, keeping intact all that is good in our world while illuminating it with a new and radiant vision, a new and more glorious dawn.
Our King, the first and last of His name, the son of David and the son of Mary, the great and holy Son of the Most High and only wise God, Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, our Brother and our Faithful Friend - He is to be born at Bethlehem. Come, let us adore Him!

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