4th Sunday of Advent
Dec. 20, 1987
2 Sam 7: 1-5, 8-11, 16
Luke 1: 26-38
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.
This weekend I was with Troop Forty at Camp Seton in Greenwich, Conn., for the annual family Christmas party, sandwiched between 2 nites of indoor “camping.” My Saturday evening homily was on the gospel but had no written text. So—here’s a “golden oldie.”
“Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Sam 7: 16).
|King David dancing before the Ark of God (Artist of the Venetian School)|
The theme running thru today’s liturgy is house building. We all know something about that: we’ve at least built sandcastles at the beach. Quite possibly we’ve moved into a new house, found its defects, and grumbled, “They sure don’t build houses like they used to.”
Houses, like life, are fragile. They reflect their materials and their builders—created, weak, mortal, part of a violent world. Ps 127 reminds is, “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it” (v. 1).
King David, who reigned 1,000 years before Christ, united the 12 tribes of Israel into one nation, defeated her enemies, and made Jerusalem her capital. He gave justice and security to the nation, and he worshipped God reverently. Israel always looked back to him as the ideal king, much as we look to Washington as the ideal president. Even today the Star of David graces the flag of Israel.
“When King David was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side,” 2 Sam tells us, he proposed to build a worthy house for the Ark of the Covenant, i.e., a temple for the sacred symbol of God’s intimate relationship to his people. (For those of you not so familiar with the Bible, I’ll point out that the ark is what Indiana Jones was looking for in Raiders of the Lost Ark.)
|The Ark of the Covenant (Indiana Jones.wikia.com)|
To David’s surprise and, I suppose, to Nathan the prophet’s, God declines the offer. Not in displeasure, however, but in grace. What David proposes to do in gratitude and reverence for God, God proposes to do freely and spontaneously for David and for Israel.
David says, “No, I will build God a house,” i.e., a temple. God says, “No, I will build you a house,” i.e., a dynasty. “You were a shepherd boy, and I chose you from the fields. Now your descendants shall shepherd my people forever.”
The story of David’s royal dynasty reads like a biblical soap opera. It lasted not forever but a mere 400 years. “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Human infidelity wrecked God’s house.
After Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome in turn subjugated the little kingdom of Judea, the Jews kept the Davidic promise alive as a hope—the hope for a messiah who would restore everything: their freedom, their friendship with God, every man’s original state of paradise. This Savior would be the Son of David, and his reign would be everlasting.
If the apparent meaning of God’s promise to David was a washout—washed out by human infidelity—God’s providence always surprises us, like his original response to David’s proposal. The promise is fulfilled, and fulfilled in a miraculous way. Luke’s Gospel tells us how. The Virgin Mary will conceive and bear a son. She will name him Jesus—which means “God saves.” His earthly family is descended from David, and “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:32-33).
The promise is fulfilled not in the resurrection of David’s empire, not in Jewish independence, wealth, and national pride. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver his people from affliction, from wickedness. He is the embodiment of God’s loving care for mankind. He is the good shepherd of God’s people. We are all the house of Jacob, the sheep of his flock, the recreated Israel, children of the resurrection and eternal life.
Which is why Christmas will bring us such joy. We’re eager to hear those glad tidings, “Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:11,14).
Which is why Advent still reminds us that Christ will come again. We’re eager to welcome him not as a helpless babe but as the Lord of glory, conqueror of sin and death, redeemer of those who’ve put their trust in him, those who’ve been able to say to God, “I’m the Lord’s servant. Let it be done to me as you say” (Luke 1:38).
And we shall sing the favors of the Lord forever (Ps 89:2).