For those who want a change from the Gospel
Advent 4 – 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
It has been said that it was a bit of an embarrassment to the OT writers that it wasn’t David who had built the Jerusalem Temple – after all, as the greatest King Israel had ever known that would be highly appropriate. But the historical fact is that it was Solomon, so the very least they could do was paint it as David’s idea, and explain why he hadn’t actually followed through. The reason for that, according to this passage, was a prophetic oracle from Nathan. But there is a deeper level at which this story can be read, and one which is highly apt as we prepare to move from Advent into the Christmas season.
In the few chapters before this pericope, David has been anointed King over the tribe of Judah, been crowned in Hebron, conquered Jebus and established it as Jerusalem, the City of David, been crowned there as king of all Israel, defeated the Philistines once and for all, and brought the Ark of the Covenant into the City. Happy days! Now he is settled into his fine new palace and at rest, except for one nagging doubt – why should he have a house like this when God was still making do with a tent? So he decides to build him a house. Great idea, but God has other ideas – he doesn’t want David to build him a house – he wants to build David a house.
There’s a lovely picture in v.7 – ‘Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites …’ God doesn’t live in a house – he lives with his people. He walked with Abraham from Ur to Canaan; he walked into Egypt with Joseph’s family, and out again with Moses; he crossed the Red Sea with them, and even wandered around for 38 years in the desert with them. And all that time he was content to live as they lived. As we gaze again this year with adoration at the baby in the manger, what a picture of the incarnation that is to take with us! As we look back over the troughs and peaks of our own lives, God walked alongside us, even when we could only see one set of footprints. He never once demanded royal status, or a place to stay – he just wanted to be with us. And of course he’s with us now, in lockdown, in whatever Tier we happen to be stuck in, in our sadness this Christmas not to be with everyone we’d like to be with, in the anxieties (or joy) of stepping into an unknown Brexit … Emmanuel really is God is with us.
But for David there was still more. A play on the Hebrew word beth means that rather than David building God a house, a physical building, God planned to build David a house, a dynasty. The nation had just emerged from a turbulent period in their history, and the God who had walked with them through it all knew exactly what they needed: a home, roots, peace and justice, and above all rest. How is this going to become reality? Through David’s house, his dynastic line, which will be established forever.
We’re still waiting, of course, for the total establishment of God’s kingdom, which is both here but also not yet here, which breaks in now and then but is still only partial and provisional. But Advent hopes for, and Christmas promises, that great David’s greater Son will come and take up his reign in all its fullness, and that yearly remembrance should inspire our hopes and prayers, because after all, don’t we need a home, roots, peace and justice, and rest right now? We are called to live in the excruciating tension between the present reality and the future hope, and it is the job of the Holy Spirit, according to Ephesians 1, to keep us in that tension, like prisoners on a mediæval rack, stretched between hope and exhaustion. But the God who walked through the wilderness with his people walks with us today and into what we all hope and pray will be a better year ahead. May God’s hope, and even his joy, be yours this Christmas.
[I’ll be taking a rest myself from blogging over Christmas, so we’ll meet again in January.]