2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
It was the perfect Christmas Eve service.
The weather was just cold enough with the faintest hints of snows falling from the sky without it worrying people away from driving to the local church.
The little cherubic children had practiced “Away In A Manger” for months and were ready to sing before the gathered people with little pipe cleaner halos hanging above their heads.
The pastor had prepared the perfect pulpit proclamation with enough humor and theological gravitas to get the ChrEasters (Christmas and Easter only people) back in church the following Sunday.
And the highlight of highlights was the so-called Living Nativity scene outside on the front lawn with the holy family, magi, angels, shepherds, sheep, goats, and one particularly cheerful looking donkey.
Like I said, it was perfect.
At the end of the service, while groups made their way up to the altar to take their traditional family color coordinated Christmas Eve pictures for Instagram, as the pastor shook hands and made small talk with all the unfamiliar faces, while the organist went through a carefully crafted holiday medley, as the poinsettias were passed out to later adorn dining room tables, while children scarfed down the sweets that were promised for good behavior during the service, as the ushers counted the largest offering ever received on a Christmas Eve… Joe and Maria, a man and young pregnant woman, stood outside the church shivering in the cold.
Their clothes were mismatched from an assortment of thrift stores, their bellies rumbled at a volume that could only rival the braying donkey, and they prayed that someone, anyone, would be able to help.
So they waited, listening to the laughter and frivolity that was taking place on the other side of the sanctuary doors.
And finally, while families fell out of the church, the couple spoke softly and humbly as asking if anyone had a place they could stay for the night, and every single person, pastor included, walked right passed them as if they didn’t exist.
Merry Christmas indeed.
King David was feeling high and mighty, all settled in his house. He sent for the prophet Nathan and said, “Don’t you think it’s about time we built a temple for the Lord who has delivered us from the hands of our enemies? I mean, we’ve got all this power and wealth and what good is it if we don’t show it off? I mean, for God!”
And the prophet intoned, “Sure, the Lord is with you.”
But that very same night, while the prophet was asleep in his bed, the word of the Lord came to Nathan and said, “Are you out of your mind? Go tell that David these words: I don’t need a house to live in, I don’t need a box for you to hide me away. I am the Lord God. I’m a mover and a shaker. I’ve got things to do, and you can’t domesticate this Spirit. Remember – It was me, The I AM, who took you from your father’s fields, I was with you when you took down the mighty Goliath, I was with you when you danced before the ark, and I will be with until the end. I’ve got plans for my people. So don’t waste your time with a temple, greater things are in store for the people Israel.”
An apt and succinct summary for this passage from 2 Samuel might be: My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
In the strange new world of the Bible we come across a king and a prophet who are contradicted by the Word of the Lord – with all of their comfort and complacency they were so sure that they had it all figured out only to have it turned upside down.
Today, we’ve got plenty of examples in which, both in the religious and political realms, there are those who have no doubt what God’s purposes and plans are only to have them 180’d.
There’s a church in San Francisco that was having a problem. On Sunday mornings, while families and individuals walked through the main doors, they were treated to the smells and the sights and the sounds of the homeless who had slept in the alcove the night before. Sure, the ushers had shoo’d most of them away before the service but their presence was still palpable.
Week after week the pastor and the leadership of the church fielded complaints about the problem and people wanted to know what the church could do to help.
So, like any good church, they formed a committee and started a fundraiser. In a few short weeks they amassed $20,000 and decided to put it to good use.
Did they use the money to start a feeding ministry?
Did they use the funds to subsidize some low-income housing for those in need?
Did they use the finances to start job training programs?
They used that 20 grand to install a motion sensor sprinkler system with the solitary purpose of spraying water every sixty seconds throughout the night to prevent anyone from trying to gather in the alcoves.
The Word from the Lord today in 2 Samuel serves as a warning against any overly assured reading of the will of God and reminds us, pertinently, that God is God and we are not.
But this also comes as a great challenge.
For, we are so sure, most of the time, of what God is up to (particularly during Advent). Most of us have heard the story of Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem so many times, or we’ve seen enough plastic nativity scenes, or we’ve heard the crooning Christmas carols over and over again, such that we cannot see or hear how bewildering the story really is.
Our Advents and Christmases are far too domesticated for the Lord who refuses to be kept in a box.
Consider – God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, God brings down the mighty form their thrones, God lifts up the lowly, God fills the hungry with good things, God sends the rich away empty.
We worship a God who acts before we do and, more often than not, catches us by surprise.
David lived a life of surprises: He was anointed by the prophet Samuel after taking care of the sheep one afternoon, he confoundingly took down the mighty Goliath, he hid away from the wrath of Saul in a cave, he became king over Israel. Sure he was handsome and crafty, but the only reason David got to be the David we know is because God was with him. And yet, near the end of his days, he thought it only right to build a dwelling place for the Lord who had delivered him, and his people, time and time again.
But God does not rest on God’s laurels.
God is in the business of finding dwelling places not for God’s self but for God’s people. God is always ahead of us, from making the covenant with Abraham to waiting in Galilee for the disciples on the other side of the resurrection, God is moving and acting and shaking things up in ways that will surprise us.
Who could’ve imagined that the second born heel-grabbing twin would be the one through whom God’s blessing would be bestowed?
Who would’ve imagined that a harlot who lived on the edge of Jericho would be part of salvation’s genealogy?
Who could’ve imagined that a little shepherd boy would one day be king?
In all times and in all places, we do well to dwell upon where, today, God is moving ahead of us and acting in ways that we cannot even imagine.
What assumptions do we have about what is perfect and pleasing in God’s sight?
In what ways are we still trying to domesticate the wildness of God’s Spirit?
How receptive are we to the God who blows where He chooses and not necessarily where we choose?
Remember – God delights in the surprise!
Over and over again in scripture, and in life, God chooses the unexpected to bring about the Kingdom. God plucks people out of complacency and says, in different ways, shapes, and forms, “I’ve got a job for you!” God stirs up our understandings of the world, flips them upside down, and calls it Good News.
This is the final Sunday of Advent, our time between time. This season has a way of setting the stage for the already but not yet all while getting under our skin. Advent compels us, forces us, to slow down, wait, and notice what we so often miss.
God is God and we are not.
God works and moves in the world in ways that we would not, were it up to us.
And here, on the final Sunday of Advent, with thoughts of David and Nathan, with thoughts of Mary and Joseph, we cannot help ourselves but relish in the strange and wondrous and confounding Good News of Christmas.
For, the Messiah is born in the last place left in the little town of bread, to a virgin named Mary who has no standing in the world.
He grows up in the hick town of Nazareth, and leaves only to spend the rest of his days among the last, least, lost little, and dead.
And, (most surprisingly) he becomes obedient, even to the point of death – death on a cross.
That’s the God we worship.
God is not some perfect and clean and respectful and tame deity that we often domesticate throughout the church.
Our God is on the move, upsetting expectations, calling upon people we would usually ignore, and making a way where there is no way.
God reminds Nathan, and therefore David, that God is perfectly comfortable remaining in the tent. Why? Because tents are made to be moved. We, on the other hand, we rejoice in building temples and monuments and buildings to proclaim stability and importance. We do this, in large part, because we are afraid.
We are afraid of being forgotten. We are afraid of death. We are afraid that we won’t have anything to show for the lives we’ve been given
And how does God respond to our attempts of permanence?
God laughs at our feeble attempts at immortality by kicking up the winds of change and declaring that all things are being made new.
God laughs at our struggles for perfect moral existence and proclaims forgives for sins.
God laughs at our certainty and shows up in the most surprising of ways, as a baby, to change the world. Amen.