Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-11,16 and Psalm 89:1-4,19-29 (NRSV)
Over the last 3 weeks, we have reflected on the themes of hope, peace and joy and how they are related to the birth of Jesus. They have been the themes in our Sunday services and also in the Advent devotions that have been emailed out daily. Thanks, by the way, to those who contributed. They have been great.
During this final week of Advent, the theme is love and that’s what I’ll be talking about this morning.
My sermon title is “What’s love got to do with it?” Those words will sound familiar to some of you of a certain generation. Tina Turner had a hit song with that title in 1984. My understanding of it is that it is an anti-love song, which says that love’s got nothing to do with it.
My answer to that question today, in the context of Christmas and Christ’s coming is “Everything”.
Love has everything to do with it, as our readings today show.
2 Samuel 7:1-11,16
The story from 2 Samuel 7 is about a time during the reign of King David when the nation was united, victorious, peaceful and prosperous. David had made Jerusalem the national capital and had built a fine palace there. He had also brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and placed it in the sacred tent, the Tabernacle. But David is uneasy that he is living in such a fine house while the Ark of the Covenant is in a tent and he decides to build a proper house as God’s dwelling place.
I had a friend in my Church at Ashfield who had joint trade qualifications in building and interior decorating. In his retirement, Warwick did a tremendous amount of work on our buildings, and this is always what he said: “I live in a beautiful, well-kept house and I want the house of the Lord to be like that too.”
David’s plan sounds like a worthy one, doesn’t it? The Prophet Nathan thought so, until God spoke to him and gave him a message for David. God didn’t want David to build such a house at all. That task would fall to his son Solomon later.
Many see this as an implied criticism of David and they question his motivation suggesting things like:
- he was a restless workaholic who just couldn’t rest even though God had given the opportunity to;
- he was trying to pin God down and control and confine God;
- it was a political and strategic manoeuvre;
- he was trying to repay God and even bribe God;
- he should have consulted God directly and sought God’s guidance on what God wanted.
I’m much more sympathetic towards David though, and I think God was too. Because God’s answer is not a rejection of David or a punishment, but an acceptance, a blessing. That blessing hinges on the word “house” and a clever wordplay on it. This passage uses the word 7 times.
- Firstly, it means “palace” when it speaks of the house of cedar that David built for himself.
- Secondly, it means “temple” when it speaks of the house that David wanted wants to build for God.
- There’s a third meaning. God will build a house for David rather than the other way around. House here means “dynasty”.
“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” (v12b-14, which are not actually in the lectionary selection)
But note v16 too, which is the conclusion of the lectionary selection.
“Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”
Here is an unconditional Covenant, one that is repeated several times elsewhere. It is a Messianic prophecy pointing to the coming of Jesus, and his eternal kingdom and reign.
But what’s love got to do with it? Everything!
This whole plan of God’s originated from the love of God – from God’s love for all humanity and from God’s desire to bring redemption and salvation to all.
It’s implied here, but explicitly referred to in today’s Psalm, Psalm 89, which is a Messianic Psalm picking up on the same themes as our other reading.
The term steadfast love appears repeatedly in this psalm – 7 times. A related term, faithfulness, is linked with it, and occurs 8 times.
The start of the psalm sets the scene.
“I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.” (v1,2)
Then speaking of the chosen one, the Servant-King, God says in v27-29:
“I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.
Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm.
I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure.”
You see, it’s all about love. It’s a covenant of love from the God of love with a purpose of love.
I liked the video from Crossover. It was a positive Christmas message at the end of a horrible year.
But there was something missing. Did you think that?
Joy, peace and hope are mentioned together several times, but love is nowhere included.
For e.g. “This new-born baby was God entering our world, and bringing himself as a gift, a gift that will enable us to experience joy, peace and hope through his presence, his life, his death, and his resurrection.”
Great, except I want to add love.
This new-born baby was God entering our world and bringing himself as a gift of love as well.
Or this. “A baby born into chaos, difficulties and trouble shows us how we have joy in the midst of sorrows, peace despite chaos and hope for tomorrow.”
And love always, I would add.
I’m not trying to be pedantic here. It’s just that love is so central to understanding Christmas and Christ’s incarnation, and it’s so needed.
What’s love got to do with it? Everything!
The King and the Maiden
Let me tell you a story. It’s one that illustrates the centrality of love to the incarnation. It’s a story from Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher and theologian from the first half of the 19th Century.
This is the gist of his story, leaving out the extensive philosophical discursions that he interposes.
Imagine there was a King who loved a humble maiden. She had no royal pedigree, no education, no standing in the royal court. She dressed in rags. She lived in a hovel; she lived the ragged life of a peasant. But for reasons no one could quite figure out, the King fell in love with this girl in the way the kings sometimes do. Why he should love her was beyond explaining, but love her he did, and he could not stop loving her.
One day there awoke in the heart of the King an anxious thought: “How in the world is he going to reveal his love to this girl? How could he bridge the chasm that separated the two of them?” His advisers, of course, told him that all he had to do was command her to become his queen, and it would be done. For he was a man of immense power, every statesman feared his wrath, every foreign power trembled before him, and every courtier grovelled in the dust at the King’s voice.
This poor peasant girl would have no power to resist; she would have to become the queen!
But power, even unlimited power, cannot command love. The King could force her body to be present in the palace, but he could not force love to be present in her heart. He might be able to gain her obedience this way but coerced submission is not what he wanted. He longed for intimacy of heart and oneness of spirit, and all the power in the world cannot unlock the human heart—it must be opened from within.
So he met with his advisers once again and they suggested he try to bridge the chasm by elevating her to his position. He could shower her with gifts, dress her in purple and silk, and have her crowned the queen. But if he brought her to his palace, if he radiated the sun of his magnificence over her, if she saw all the wealth, pomp, and power of his greatness, then she would be overwhelmed. How would he ever know if she loved him for himself, or for all that he had given her? And how could she know that he loved her, and would love her still if she had remained only a humble peasant? Would she be able to summon confidence enough never to remember what the king only wished to forget—that he was the king and she had been a humble maiden?
Every alternative he came up with came to nothing. There was only one way. So one day the king arose, took off his crown, relinquished his sceptre, laid aside his royal robes, and he took upon himself the life of a peasant. He dressed in rags, scratched out a living in the dirt, grovelled for food, and dwelt in hovel.
He did not just take on the outward appearance of a servant, he became a servant–it was his actual life, his actual nature, his actual burden. He became as ragged as the one he loved so that she could be his forever. It was the only way. His raggedness became the very signature of his presence.
Though I left out his overt philosophising, here is a section worth pondering.
(Philosophical Fragments, ch. 2)
“Since we found that the union could not be brought about by an elevation it must be attempted by a descent… In order that the union may be brought about, the God must therefore become the equal of such a one, and so he will appear in the likeness of the humblest. But the humblest is one who must serve others, and the God will therefore appear in the form of a servant. But this servant-form is no mere outer garment, like the king’s beggar-cloak, which therefore flutters loosely about him and betrays the king… It is his true form and figure…
Behold where he stands — the God! Where? There; do you not see him? He is the God; and yet he has not a resting-place for his head.
But the servant-form is no mere outer garment, and therefore the God must suffer all things, endure all things, make experience of all things. He must suffer hunger in the desert, he must thirst in the time of his agony, he must be forsaken in death, absolutely like the humblest.”
So, in the fullness of time, Almighty God sent an angel with an astounding message for a young girl named Mary.
“You will conceive in your womb and bear a son… He 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33, NRSV)
That’s the message of Christmas – a message about ancient prophecies finally being fulfilled; a message about love incarnate.
To quote the words of Ainsley Freeman again:
May the newborn baby at the centre of the natiuvity be where you look for joy, peace and hope (and I add love) this Christmas.