On this third Sunday of Advent, in keeping with the Advent theme of longing and waiting, or promise and fulfilment to use the Biblical categories, our main text for reflection is 2 Samuel 7:1-17, the account of David’s desire to build God a “house.” Our New Testament counterpart is a slightly unusual choice, Romans 1:1-7, as it gives peculiar expression to the ultimate fulfilment of God’s response to David through the prophet Nathan, that he instead would be the one to build David a “dynasty.”
Culture is thus both human achievement and divine gift. It is, to stay with our metaphor, the performance of our ultimate beliefs and values—the inevitable staging of our religion. If this is so, it is the task of theology pre-eminently to interpret and articulate the meaning of the cultures we inhabit; and to suggest the way of (biblical) wisdom throughout the stages of life.
Artists are not fatally cast upon their inner brilliance (or lack thereof), but called to the diligent use of their peculiar insights into the givenness of what God has created; a world budding with potentiality in anticipation of his image-bearers to explore and celebrate.
The notion of the secularisation of (Western) society is a fascinating subject in its own right, with both supporters and detractors of its central thesis; that our society is no longer concerned with religion the way it used to be. Secular, from saeculum (generation, or age) in its Christian Latin usage denotes ‘the world’, as opposed to sacred, from sacer (holy), that which is consecrated to God. Back in 1966 Bryan Wilson called it “the process in which religious thinking, practice and institutions lose social significance”, and Anthony Giddens, more recently as “the process where religion loses its influence over the various spheres of social life”. Or, as Max Weber more imaginatively called it, “the disenchantment of the world”.
The dinner spectacle John describes for us in his gospel, even though remote, still manages to offend us (though not as much as the original guests), but, we’re not quite sure how—or, why, we are offended. We can determine this however, that the story gives us a picture of extravagant devotion.