The Coming of our God

Our first reading this weekend is an abridged version of chapter 7 of 2nd Samuel. I love how it starts:

When King David was settled in his palace,
and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side,
he said to Nathan the prophet,
“Here I am living in a house of cedar,
while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”

I can just see him, clapping himself on the forehead, going “What was I thinking! I built a palace for myself, but not for the God who gave me victory? Oy, what ingratitude!”

Or maybe, even, “Oy, how stupid of me! If I don’t want to have to fight off my enemies by myself next time, I better give God his due.” I can imagine him thinking, hm, what do other nations do to keep their gods happy? Temples, that’s the ticket.

This is standard religious thinking, right? Give the gods good stuff in exchange for their protection. I heard a historian once explain that to the ancient people, gods functioned sort of like insurance policies or vaccinations do for us: they’re your protection against calamity.

God’s response is nothing short of astonishing:

Is it you who would build me a house to dwell in? I have never dwelt in a house from the day I brought Israel up from Egypt to this day, but I have been going about in a tent or a tabernacle. As long as I have wandered about among the Israelites, did I ever say a word to any of the judges whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?

Did I ask you to build me a house?

I took you from the pasture, from following the flock, to become ruler over my people Israel.

The initiative is God’s, here. God came to David, not the other way around. God chose David for God’s people, Israel.

And there’s more:

Moreover, the LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you: when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom.

He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. If he does wrong, I will reprove him with a human rod and with human punishments; but I will not withdraw my favor from him as I withdrew it from Saul who was before you.

Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.

For Christians, this is one of the most important passages in the Shared Scriptures. Here in 2 Sam 11-16, God promises that David and David’s descendants will forever have God’s favor. This is a remarkably unconditional promise from God to David’s line: it is not contingent on temples, sacrifices, prayers, or moral behavior. It is purely gratuitous.

This is the Davidic covenant that gave rise to the expectation of a Messiah that would someday be raised up from the house of David.

It is celebrated in Psalm 89, which we also sing today:

The promises of the LORD I will sing forever;
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.
For you have said, “My kindness is established forever”;
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.
For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.”
For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

“He shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock, my savior.’
Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.”
For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

And it is this covenant that Christians believe was fulfilled with the coming of Christ. The connection is drawn explicitly in the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary that we hear today from the gospel of Luke:

Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Remember that God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and the connection to the reading from Samuel is even stronger. The house of Jacob is the people of Israel.

And hear the echoes of this passage in the Nicene Creed: He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

This is one of those weeks when preaching on just the gospel drives me especially crazy. For goodness’ sake, we all know the story of the Annunciation in isolation. But we have this tendency to think of this passage as coming near the beginning of the story. By no means is it the beginning of the story! There’s a reason that Christianity kept the whole bible we inherited from Judaism and added on to it: it’s because the church sees the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as the culmination of the whole sweep of salvation history… and by “salvation history” I mean the history of God’s relationship with God’s people, in which God consistently takes the initiative to establish relationship with us. God seeks us out, not the other way around. God comes to us.

And that’s what “Advent” means: coming.

The coming of our God
Our thoughts must now employ:
Then let us meet him on the road
With songs of holy joy.

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