Advent 4B

December 15, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Luke 1:26-38

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary

    2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    What’s the deal with Nathan in II Samuel 7? When King David came to the prophet to suggest that he was feeling guilty for not having built God as nice a house as the palace he had just built for himself—and that therefore he was minded to rectify the situation by getting busy on building God a house—why did Nathan so readily agree? Did David catch him in a distracted moment? Is this kind of like what happens when one of your kids asks you a question while you are deeply immersed in a really interesting novel?

    “Dad?”

    “Hmmm, yes, what is it?”

    “Can I make a bonfire in the backyard using wood from the fence?”

    “Um, sure, whatever you want, honey.”

    Ten minutes later you sit bolt upright in your chair as it slowly dawns on you what you had just agreed to let your kid do! It’s the kind of thing that sends you racing to the backyard to head off the mayhem that you distractedly unleashed!

    So was Nathan just kind of not thinking, just kind of daydreaming, when David first approached him? Did his answer to the king amount to a kind of, “Yeah, well, you know, whatever you want, my liege, is fine be me.” Or did Nathan really ponder this as best he could, concluded it was so pious-sounding that it could not possibly be wrong, and so told David to forge ahead because, after all, what could be even remotely wrong with trying to give God such a fine gift?

    Whatever the precise cause, Nathan soon discovered that not only had he spoken too soon, he had quite simply misread the mind of God (and how nice to know that even biblically authorized prophets get things wrong now and again—a comfort to all of us who preach!).

    But I am still curious if there is anything further to be discerned in Nathan’s initial shoot-from-the-hip answer to David. Probably attempts to ponder this trend in the direction of the speculative—and for that very reason in a direction that may incline us toward making our own errors—and so a measure of caution is called for. But in this Advent Season I wonder sometimes if Nathan’s error—and what may have been behind it—is not sometimes also our error when it comes to the ways of God and our understanding God’s more typical way of operating.

    What I mean is this: maybe one of the reasons Nathan agreed so readily to David’s initial idea was because he assumed that even as we human beings like what is lush, lavish, showy, and outwardly impressive, so does God. If presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens, live in places like the White House or Buckingham Palace—and if such manifestly powerful and regal abodes convey the majesty of the people who hold the power—then surely the all-powerful, almighty God would need (and would like) such a thing, too.

    In a scene from the movie The American President, the actor playing the President of the United States tells a visitor to the Oval Office that the architects of Washington D.C. designed the capitol city to be so impressive and overwhelming as to strike fear in the hearts of would-be enemies. “The Oval Office,” the president said, “is the best home court advantage in the world.” And in real life, people who have visited the President in the Oval Office often say that upon entering that inner sanctum of power, they became so flustered and overwhelmed that they can scarcely speak. Even perfectly intelligent and articulate people find themselves with mouths full of teeth, totally forgetting the well-rehearsed speeches they had in mind before entering that room.

    That’s the kind of glitz and power we know something about as human beings and so we assume that maybe God is interested in making a similarly powerful impression on people and so—as perhaps Nathan likewise thought—is worthy of an earthly house at least as impressive as anything an earthly monarch, president, or prime minister might have.

    But in II Samuel 7 God sees no such need. By the time we get to the New Testament and Mary’s being informed of who would be taking up residence in her humble womb, we start to understand the reason why. The God who possesses more power, glitz, elegance, and sheer awesomeness than any being in the cosmos and beyond knows that the best things in life—including the redemption of the world—come through more modest means, through humility and gentleness and sacrifice.

    Most people in the church today have a hard time believing the New Testament’s message that now each and every believer is him- or herself a temple of the Holy Spirit. We are now the dwelling place of the Most High God. But since most of us don’t exactly look the part, we live out most of our days as though it weren’t true.

    But it is. The Bible tells us so.

    Illustration Idea
    One of the most mind-boggling spectacles I’ve ever seen is a short science movie titled Powers of Ten (the recent IMAX film, Cosmic Voyage is a recent update of this film). You can view the original film here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fKBhvDjuy0 Many of us no doubt saw this movie in a high school physics class. As the film opens, you see a close-up view of a young couple spreading out a picnic blanket on a grassy section of Chicago’s Grant Park. Then every ten seconds thereafter the camera pulls back, each time increasing its distance from the couple by one more power of ten.
    First the camera pulls back just one foot; ten seconds later it pulls back ten feet; ten seconds later it pulls back one hundred feet and then one thousand feet and then ten thousand feet and so on. At first you can still see the young couple. But soon you can pick out only the small square of their picnic blanket in the midst of the larger Grant Park. Seconds later Grant Park itself has been reduced to a small green patch as you can now see all of Chicago and the southern curve of Lake Michigan.
    Next Chicago disappears as you see the whole United States. Then you see the whole planet earth, then even our own sun starts to shrink into an ordinary looking star. Within just a couple of minutes the picture has pulled back to the outer limits of the Milky Way galaxy and soon thereafter to the edge of the known universe. Once the edge of space is reached, the camera then quickly hurtles back through space, finally zooming back in on the couple in Grant Park. All in all the film is a stunning reminder of how small we are compared to the vastness of the universe.
    Once upon a time God’s Son took his own cosmic “powers of ten” journey. Long ago the Son of God zipped past galaxies, quasars, suns, planets, and continents getting ever closer to this world until finally he dove deeply into the confines of a virgin’s uterus. There, as a microscopic zygote, he took on human DNA, skin, organs, and blood, and was born in a small stable, all his vastness enclosed by no more than a goat’s feed trough.
    Never before had the cosmic and the local, the vastness of space and the smallness of a single human being, mingled in so wondrous a way. And that is the God and Lord we serve; that is why we can be so sure that despite our smallness, despite the fact that we, like ancient Israel, hardly look like the center of the universe, we really are. We are now the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of a God who for so very long now has specialized in taking vastness and making it very, very specific, small, and local!

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 16:25-27

    Author: Stan Mast