Sunday, December 18, 2011

4th Sunday of Advent - December 18, 2011

For the past four months, our confirmation kids have been taking sermon notes based on two questions: What Law did you hear in the sermon?  and What gospel did you hear?  I have the kids listen for these two things because the Lutheran understanding is that God speaks those two words to us.  Sometimes they seem to have a pretty easy time hearing the two words and sometimes it's a little bit trickier.  Today, the two words sit side by side in a way that they can be clearly seen.  

            Now when the king lived in his house and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.”

This is a very clear instance of David applying the Law to himself.  He is aware that the Lord has blessed him.  He knew that as a boy he was just a shepherd with little prospect of every being anything more.  And he knew that God had plucked him out of obscurity, made him into a warrior and leader of men.  And he knew that he was now the king of his people only by the grace of God.  He is very aware of these things.  And so he says to Nathan, "I'm living in a beautiful palace, but God's ark, the symbol of his presence, is living in a dumpy old tent."  And he doesn't speak it, but the implication is clearly there, "I should do something about that.  God has blessed me richly and I should pay him back."  As I said, this is David applying the Law to himself, asking, "What should I do?"  

God responds to David through the prophet Nathan and he does so in no uncertain terms.  God lays it out for him.  

            "Would you build me a house to dwell 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 for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

In other words, "Who told you I wanted a fancy house?  If I would have wanted one of those I would have asked one of those other leaders, you're not the only one I've asked to shepherd my people you know, I would have asked one of them to build me a house.  But I didn't.  And you sure seem to be getting just a little big for your britches."

At this point, I'd expect God to give David a real dressing down.  I'd expect God to apply the Law to David to squash that pride.  But God does nothing of the sort.  Instead God uses his other word, the word of promise, the gospel.  And he uses a play on words to deliver this promise.  David wanted to build him a house, an architectural structure, stone and wood.  Well, God is going to build a house for David made of living people.  He is going to give him a lineage, a line of descendants.  And these descendants are going to rule the country forever.  At least, that is what is understood.  And as it was understood, this is a wonderful promise indeed.  To know that one's descendants will continue to rule, that there will be stability, and that one's own name will be secured for posterity, these are the dreams of every king.

But here's the thing, God's promise to David was underestimated.  The promise was actually better than that.  The good news was much better than that.  And we begin to discover this one thousand years later when a messenger from God, an angel named Gabriel, visits a young woman named Mary.  A woman who is a descendant of... David.  And Gabriel tells her the most amazing thing.  Not the virgin birth part, though that's pretty amazing.  No, he tells her that the son she will bear...

            "...will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

This was the promise all along.  This was God's promise to David.  Not just that his descendants would be king over a country called Israel, but that his descendant would be God's own son.  God's promise to David was this, "I am going to join your family.  Your son will be my son."  Now the promise that David understood was a very good promise, but this is much better.  

I tell you this morning that we too have become a part of that family.  Through faith in Jesus Christ we have become the relatives of King David.  But better yet, we have become children of God, our sins forgiven and our futures secured.  These are the promises that we received in baptism, though, like David, we did not deserve it.  And these are good promises, amazing promises.  But I can't help but wonder if God's promise to us is even better than we expect.  Even greater and more gracious than our minds can imagine.  One day we will know, but for now we can look forward with great hope and expectation, because our God gives good promises.  Really good promises.

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