Year B — The Fourth Sunday in Advent

Commentary for December 18, 2011
Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16


This text turns on a play on the word: “house.” This is one of the few times the pun works just as well in English as it does in Hebrew. David wants to do something for God by building God a house (physical structure). God turns that about by promising to build David a “house,” that is “a family dynasty.” There are two connections in this text to Advent.

1) The obvious connection to Joseph being “of the house and lineage of David,” and all that that language implies in the Gospel stories.

2) More important is the promise of God’s presence. In one way or another, we all are prone to trying to keep God in God’s place, aren’t we? Whether it be between the pages of a black book or inside the restraints of a confessional system, we are not unlike King David in wanting to build a “house of cedar,” where we can keep the divine under control. And God is not having any of it. God reminds Nathan and David that God’s place is where it has always been and always will be; in the midst of God’s people. Advent is the promise that the uncontrollable, uncontainable and unlimited God will once again push through our restrictions and fear to stand in our midst.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26  

Isn’t “forever” a great word? The psalmist uses it three times in those first four verses. Makes me think of that great refrain from Handel’s Messiah, choruses of “forever, forever” rolling and tumbling over each other like a sparkling waterfall. In secular music I think of Randy Travis’ country song, “I’m gonna love you forever and ever, amen.” Yes forever is a lovely word. The Hebrew is ad olam, which “applied to David and his descendants, emphasizes the ever-continued, ever-acting presence of the blessing extended into the “indefinite future.” (Vine’s Dictionary of Biblical Words, p. 72) What is the blessing that goes on forever? God’s “steadfast love” and “faithfulness.” God’s gonna love us forever and ever, amen.

Romans 16:25-27 

The revelation of the mystery,” that is best summation of Advent that I know. The mystery is the mystery of life, the mystery of meaning, the mystery of what it all means, the mystery of how we are to behave, the mystery of God and spirituality and life and death. In the coming of the Christ, all is revealed, all is explained. Or so Paul says. Personally, I am still very often quite mystified by the whole thing, but I have to admit that clinging to the love of God in Christ gives me a good anchor to hold on to as I seek to understand the rest of it.
Luke 1:26-38
Two words leap out at me in this text: “favored” and “perplexed.” For good reason is Mary perplexed. First of all, she knows she’s a virgin; how can she be pregnant? Secondly, what sort of “favored” status is it to be pregnant without having had relations with your husband in a culture in which stoning is the proposed punishment for adultery? If I had been Mary, perplexed would have been much too sedate a word to describe my feelings. “Angry and scared out of my wits” would have probably come closer. A bigger mystery to me than the virgin birth is Mary’s reaction to the whole thing. Not just the perplexity and the polite questioning instead of the screaming heebie-jeebies; but the quiet acceptance and obedience in the words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Whether she actually said it or not, Mary lived those words. The question for me is whether or not I am ready to quietly and obediently live into the mystery of whatever God’s steadfast love and faithfulness have in store? For me? Forever? Amen. 
 

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. John P. Fairless

I’ve always heard that “it’s good to be the king!”

You get to live in a palace, there are lots of people around to do what you say…they bring you food and wine and entertainment of all sorts. In fact, most everybody in your life is there to do pretty much whatever you want. After all, nobody outranks the king!


And so, we meet King David — the Shepherd Boy/Giant Killer/turned Warrior Prince and King. As Samuel records, David had no more worlds to conquer; God have “given him rest.” All well and good, correct?


As it turns out, the whole “given him rest” thing wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be — and David soon found himself restless. He needed something to do, some plan to conceive, some great deed to achieve. So, he cooked a little project up for himself. He was going to build God a house!


Oh, it would be glorious! David began to imagine the details in all their rich variety. One can almost feel his excitement as he shared his vision with his pastor — otherwise known as the prophet, Nathan. Brother Nathan liked the sound of the idea (remember, who’s going to tell the king, “No, that sounds really stupid?”) He gave David his spiritual imprimatur — “Go, do what you have in mind. The LORD is with you!”


There was only one problem with this awesome undertaking for God. Neither David nor Nathan had stopped long enough to ask God what it was that God wanted them to do. 


So, Nathan gets a wake-up call around midnight one night; God has a message to be delivered to David.


“Do you think that I need you to build me a house? I’ve been doing pretty well for the last thousand years or so, in case you haven’t noticed — I got Moses and your great-great-great grandaddy out of a pretty tight squeeze there in Egypt. I managed to keep your whole straggling lot of ancestors together for forty years in the wilderness. I got them all here to the Promised Land and have been with all of you every step of the way.


“And in all that time, I’ve lived in a tent and a tabernacle and I’ve never, ever asked anybody to build me a house. What makes you think that I need you to build me one, David?


“Remember, I picked you fresh from the sheep shift, young man — I stayed with you, helped you, strengthened you — why, I made you, David! And I’m here to tell you, I didn’t grant you victory over Goliath and Saul and the Philistines and Me-knows-whoever-else just to turn you into a glorified building contractor!


“I have something else in mind — something greater that I have planned for you to do. So, what I need from you is for you to just settle down, take care of the business I have set before you — and get back to being a king who cares for his people. Is that too much for me to ask?”


I would imagine you could have heard the veritable pin drop after God finished that comeuppance with both Nathan and with David.


The gentle correction of God is sometimes not so gentle in our lives. God needed David to understand — as I’m sure God sometimes is trying to get us to understand — that God was building David’s life for a purpose. He was to be the progenitor of the family line that would lead to Joseph and Mary and to the baby in Bethlehem — the baby that was born to be the Savior of the world. 


That’s a pretty awesome assignment!


As we bring the season of Advent to a close and prepare to welcome the Christ anew into our lives, perhaps we can hear the word of the Lord for us in the midst of David’s call:

  • Be careful when you think you have finally arrived; it is often most difficult to live successfully right after our greatest victories have been won. 
  • Telling God what it is that you want to do can be a dangerous proposition. While God often works according to the desires of our hearts — and God certainly understands the ways that we are fearfully and wonderfully made — the basic commitment of our lives remains, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”
  • Even preachers get it wrong sometimes! Nathan got ahead of himself, or got a little carried away with the ambition of his most powerful and influential parishioner. Ministers are not perfect (in case you haven’t figured that out) and shouldn’t be expected to be. But, both members and ministers should be people of prayer — and certainly willing to admit it when they are wrong!
  • Whatever God has planned for you, you can trust that it will be better than anything that you may have imagined for yourself.

In his book, The Man God Uses, Dr. Henry Blackaby tells of reading the gospel story of the devoted friends who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus one day. They wanted Jesus to heal their friend so that he could walk again. And yet, Jesus’ response was, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (see Mark 2:1-12)


Why did Jesus not respond according the wishes/prayers/faith of the friends? They asked for healing; Jesus offered forgiveness. Dr. Blackaby says, “I began meditating on this passage…it was as if God said to me, ‘Henry, these men were asking for one thing but I had so much more to give them.’ If God had healed the man without forgiving his sins, he would have lost out on so much more God had to offer. Jesus not only provided for a physical problem, he provided for the spiritual one as well.


“When I realized this, I began to pray, ‘Lord, if I ever make a request and you have something better in mind for me, please cancel my request.'” (Blackaby, Broadman and Holman Publishing Group, 1999, p. 90)

Lord, at the ending of Advent and at the coming of your Son at Christmas…if we have made requests and you have better things in mind, please cancel our requests.

Amen.

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