Text: 1 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:26-38†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† W 4th Sunday in Advent
A House for the Lord
††††††††††† In the name of him whose kingdom
will never end, dear friends in Christ:
The Lord had been good to David.
Very good indeed.† He had started
out as the eighth son of a moderately successful farmer, which means that his
chief prospect would have been to one day inherit a paltry ninth share of his
fatherís estate on which he might have been able to scratch out a meager living.† In his wildest dreams as a boy he could never
have imagined the victories, achievements, wealth, and honors the Lord had planned
to heap upon him.†† Oh, they hadnít come
all at once; thatís for sure.† Life had
been a rollercoaster of ups and downs for David.† He had experienced extended periods of great
hardship and peril.† He knew what it was
to suffer and to be cold, hungry, tired, and afraid for his life for days on
end.† But those low points in his life made
him appreciate all the more the success and stability he had now been granted Ė
and not only for himself, but for the entire nation over which he had come to
rule by Godís grace.† †Here he was: the shepherd boy turned
king.† And things were really shaping
up.† The nation was prosperous, its
people united, and best of all the enemies that had oppressed, robbed, and made
lives miserable for Israel for nearly a century were conquered.† Now they were paying annual tribute to David.† The dawn of
††††††††††† And so now he wanted to say ďthank
youĒ to the Lord not just in words; but in a very tangible way.† He wanted to do some noble work that would
please the Lord.† And it wasnít very hard
for him to figure out what to do.† The
Tabernacle, the tent that had served as the Lordís mobile temple during
Israelís wilderness wandering phase and which had been set up more or less
permanently at a place called Shiloh ever since the conquest of Canaan, was now
about four hundred years old.† I expect
it looked every bit its age.† And now
too, it had been abandoned and neglected for some twenty or so years because
King Saul, Davidís predecessor, in one of his many fits of blind rage, had
slaughtered the priests of God who served there.† The soul survivor of the massacre, a priest
named Abiathar, had fled to the then outlaw David for protection Ė and with him
††††††††††† David decided that it was high time
††††††††††† And the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced it was the right thing to do.† I mean, how can you go wrong building a house dedicated to the worship of God?† He was sure he was on the right track; but just to be absolutely certain he summoned the prophet Nathan.† Nathan was a known as a straight shooter when it came to speaking the Word of the Lord. †He always told it like it was. †If there were anything wrong with what David had in mind, he would tell him so.† But when David floated his idea before the prophet, Nathan was the first one to jump on board.† He too was certain that it was a perfect plan.† The Lord would surely be pleased.† In fact, Nathan was so sure of it that he didnít even bother to ask the Lord about it.† After all, whatís the point in asking if you already know the answer?† Right?
††††††††††† Wrong.† No, itís much worse than just wrong. †It is the height of impudence to imagine that you know how or what the Lord thinks about something on which he has not spoken.† And it doesnít matter how good your intentions are.† Thereís a reason why they say that the road to hell is paved with them.† It is. Every false religion has at its heart some humanís idea about what it is that will please God (or whatever it is they consider to be God).† And these ideas always appear to be good and noble and honorable.† They appeal to what is best in the heart and mind of manóbut thatís exactly the problem.† The Lord declares throughout the Scripture that there is nothing good in the heart and mind of man.† Since the fall all we do is sin.† Even our best and proudest achievements are sin. †And when we present them to the Lord thinking that weíre pleasing him by doing so, we add to our sins the presumption of making his judgments for him Ė effectively declaring ourselves to be above him, and making him the humble recipient of our kind and gracious favor.
††††††††††† And I have to tell you that this can be so very subtle that it easily escapes our notice. †Iíve used this example before, but it fits the season so well that I have to mention it. Thereís a song you hear a lot this time of year about a little drummer boy.† Iím sure youíre familiar with it.† Many Christians count it among their favorite Christmas carols.† Thatís unfortunate; first because its repeated prírump-pa-pa-pums soon become quite annoying.† Itís like the Chinese water torture set to music.† My heart grieves for the employees of businesses that have this song on their continuously playing loop of background music.† But dubious aesthetics aside, the real problem with the song is its message.† Though it mentions the baby Jesus and his virgin mother, itís anything but Christian. The drummer boy is sad because heís poor, and doesnít have a gift worthy to give to the infant Jesus like he sees the wise men doing.† If thatís where it stopped, itíd be all right; because thatís true.† He hasnít got anything fit to give to Jesus.† Period.† Thatís where it should end.† It would also make the song mercifully shorter.† But no, it goes on.† Not having anything else, he plays his drum for Jesus.† He does his best.† And the baby Jesus smiles at him Ė all of which clearly communicates the message that it doesnít matter who you are or what you have to work with, as long as you try to do your best to please the Lord, heís happy with it.† Friends, that isnít the Gospel of Jesus Christ.† That is the doctrine of demons that leads straight to hell.† But because itís packaged so sweetly in a cute story about a poor little boy most people donít realize theyíre being deceived.†
††††††††††† This is the same deception that drove so many to join monasteries and convents in the middle ages.† Itís what led people on pilgrimages and crusades.† And itís what continues to drive much of so-called ďEvangelicalĒ Christianity today:† the false idea that we fallen sinners can devise on our own ways to please the Lord and follow through with them to his divine satisfaction.† And the fact that even the faithful prophet Nathan was taken in by it should prove to us just how dangerous and deceptive this is.
††††††††††† The prophet needed to be reminded of how things actually stood.† And the Lord coming to him at night to set him straight is a bit of a backhand swipe at him.† Itís meant to humble and correct him.† In his going back to David heís going to have to eat a little crow while he explains that he spoke out of turn and presumed to know the mind of the Lord.
And the message he has for David is clear.† It could be summarized this way:† ďYour thinking about this is all wrong.† The Lord does not want or need your favors; and when all is said and done, there is nothing you can do for or give to him anyway.† Remember the story of your life.† You were an insignificant shepherd boy.† I chose you to be the king for my people.† I lifted you up and made you strong.† I have been giving you victories over your enemies and making you famous.† The way this relationship works is that you hold open your hand and receive what I give to you.† Thatís what it means to have me as your God.† You look to me in faith with the expectation that I will give to you all that you need and ultimately more than you can hope for.Ē
††††††††††† And thatís something else that we see in this story:† just how limited is the imagination of man.† David thought that as a way to say thanks or return a favor he could build a house for the Lord.† He was thinking that a temple made of stone and cedar would fit the bill quite nicely, especially if he spent a lot of money on it and put the best architects and craftsmen on the job.† He was thinking as big as he could; but he was thinking way too small.
††††††††††† The prophet was instructed to tell David that there was indeed a building project in progress; but it was on a much grander scale.† It had to be, for the builder was the Lord himself.† And he was building up a house for David, not of lifeless construction materials; but of warm flesh and blood.† It was a house not in the sense of an earthly building; but in the sense of a family Ė as in what Joshua meant when he said, ďAs for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.Ē† The Lord was building for David a royal family consisting of millions of people who would live forever in peace and security.
††††††††††† Part of that family, of course, was the unbroken chain of men and women Ė the literal blood descendants of David Ė through whom the Lord passed down through the generations the lineage that ultimately led to the birth of his Son in human flesh.† We heard about the fulfillment of that in todayís Gospel reading when the virgin Mary received notification of her having been chosen for the special honor of bearing Godís Son.† And itís quite interesting when you think about it:† she who is already a part of the house of David (the family, that is,) is now made a ďhouse for the LordĒ because in her the Lord really does take up residence.† Her body becomes the temple where the Lord dwells on earth while he grows and develops inside her.† Itís important to see too that she doesnít take this honor upon herself.† Itís not her idea.† Itís not something she cooks up as a way to please God.† No, this task is what the Lord has chosen, called, and equipped her to do.† All she does is receive the gift by saying, ďI am the Lordís servant; let it be to me according to your Word.Ē† She opens the hand of faith, as it were, to receive the gift of being the mother of Christ just as a thousand years earlier David received the gift of being king.† And thatís how true gratitude to the Lord ought properly to be expressed in the house of David:† in simply receiving the gifts the Lord freely gives and faithfully discharging the tasks that he assigns.
††††††††††† And this applies to us as well, for the house of David that the Lord is building includes not just his descendants by natural birth, but far more importantly and on that much grander scale Iíve been talking about, it includes all those who are born into the house by supernatural birth Ė that is, those who by Godís Holy Spirit are adopted into Davidís family by faith in great King Davidís greater Son, Jesus Christ the Lord.† He too had a supernatural birth into the family; and as a member of the family, he too was called and equipped to perform a special task for the Lord. Namely, he came to offer his life as the sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world.† Being without sin himself, heís the only one who could do it; but Iíll have you see that even he who was perfect did not think it up or take the task upon himself.† He did what he was chosen and called to do.† Like his human mother he said, ďI am the Lordís servant; let it be to me according to your Word.Ē† Thatís the proper attitude of faith and thankfulness to the Lord for all he gives.
††††††††††† This informs us today.† David, Mary, and yes, Jesus Ė they all had their parts to play in building the house of David in which the Lord dwells.† By faith in Jesus we are part of this house.† And though we sometimes speak of this building as the house of God, the true house is the family of the faithful who gather here to receive Godís gifts of grace and forgiveness, and also to hear what he would have us do to serve the family.† We say our thanks to God not by imagining what we might do to please him; but by hearing his Word, trusting his promises, and acting on the things heís equipped and assigned us to do.† Because God does not need our favors; but other people do Ė both the current members of the family and those who have yet to receive the gift of faith.† You see, the house is still very much under construction Ė as indeed is each one of us.† And what we will be and what the house will become one day far surpasses anything we can imagine.†
††††††††††† The Lord is very good to us indeed.† Let us make it a point then to express our gratitude by opening our hands to receive ever more of what he freely gives, so that by these gifts we may fulfill the role he has for us in building up his house.† In Jesus name.† Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!