2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall

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Preaching: 2 Samuel 7:1-16

This is one of those Sundays when the preacher may wish that the lectionary offered other alternatives for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. This is especially true of the Old Testament reading from 2 Samuel. The passage (2 Samuel 7:1-11,16) is not an easy one on which to preach and that conclusion is obviously shared by others. Sandy Wylie's Sermon Reviews notes that sermons on this passage are exceedingly rare. This, however, will not be true after this fourth Sunday in Advent.

In order to get a handle on this lesson it is important to relate the reading to the liturgical date for which it was chosen. It is also useful to look at it in the light of the gospel reading for this Sunday. During Advent the mood moves from longing for deliverance and penitence to joy and celebration as we signal the advent of God's presence among us and the future of God's kingdom. We move from bondage and exile to freedom and homecoming; from no future to God's future; from the despair of being caught in the consequences of our own stories to the prospect of being a part of and a player in God's story.

Years ago I heard of an incident that took place on a busy street on the days preceding Christmas. A pedestrian loaded down with recently purchased gifts was bumped by another pedestrian similarly encumbered. The packages were knocked from her arms and scattered on the sidewalk. As she bent to retrieve them, she was heard to say "I hate Christmas. It turns everything upside down."

That is precisely what we hear in this passage from 2 Samuel. King David, in a benevolent mood, decides to build God a house. David appears to see himself as God's benefactor and as one who needs to look after God. Something in this sounds a little like all of us good church folk who want to "put Christ back into Xmas." Good Christian people should look after the baby Jesus at Christmas. While this may be a magnanimous thought it is based on poor theology and a skewed understanding of our place in the eternal scheme of things. God's response to David turns everything upside down — or right side up, as the case may be. David is not looking after God. God is and will look after David. David wants to give God a house. God does not need a house from David. David needs a future from God.

An obvious preaching point is that the God who comes to us in the form of a child at Bethlehem cannot finally be contained in houses, systems, theologies, denominations, church buildings, or even in the festival of Christmas. God may entrust God's presence to our care as the baby Jesus was entrusted to Mary and Joseph, but God is not limited to our care. Jesus is not important because he was a part of Mary and Joseph's story. (Turn it upside down.) Mary and Joseph achieved significance and are remembered because they were a part of God's story.

There is a bad news/good news quality in this lesson from 2 Samuel. The bad news is that God refuses to be in our story as long as that story has nothing to do with the story that God is telling in history. The significance of Christmas is irrelevant to many in our time precisely because the lives that they are living are disconnected from God's story and, therefore, their lives are truly irrelevant and have no lasting future. David wanted to build God a house and, it seems, to make God a part of his story. Was there some movement here toward making God into a tribal deity or a household God? Is it something of the same spirit that wants God to be our business partner, our financial advisor, our children's nanny, our real estate agent and our parking attendant? God is not here to be a junior partner in our schemes and dreams. That's the "bad news." God will not dwell in "houses" that we build. The good news is that we can be in God's story. God will build the "house." God will make names great. This is a statement and a promise that sounds almost exactly like the call to father Abraham (Genesis 12: 1-3). God has chosen David to be a player in the only story that matters and the only story that has any real and lasting future: God's story.

We hear the same theme echoed in the gospel lesson. God sends a messenger to Mary to tell her that she has been chosen to be a major player in God's story. The preacher can make the point that an important gift from God is the gift of significance, of meaning, and of having the privilege of being a player in God's eternal story. The only warning is that this gift will probably turn everything upside down. Old definitions will no longer hold true. The weak will be strong. The poor will be rich. The lame shall enter first. When we try to save our lives we lose them. When we try to make a name for ourselves we become nameless. Kings who think they are important are only important when they are in God's story. The good news is that God's story has a future. On the Fourth Sunday in Advent we celebrate God's light shining in our darkness. We hear in scripture and in son's God's invitation to us to be a part of God's story. It is that invitation and that presence that truly turns everything upside down and is cause for joyful celebration.

Hugh L. Eichelberger