Sermon from 20th Dec 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 (EHV) 

1 It happened that when king David was living in his palace, and when the Lord had given him rest from his enemies all around, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I live in a house of cedar, but the Ark of God sits under tent curtains.”

Nathan said to the king, “Go and do everything that is in your heart, because the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan. He said, “Go and tell my servant David all these things.”

This is what the Lord says. Are you the one to build a house for me to live in? I have not lived in a house from the day I brought the people of Israel up from Egypt until today. I have been moving around in the Tent and the Dwelling. I have traveled everywhere with all the people of Israel. Did I ever speak a word to any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people, or ask them, “Why have you not built a house of cedar for me?”

You are also to say the following to my servant David.

This is what the Lord of Armies says. I took you from the pasture, from following sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel. I have been with you wherever you went. I have cut off all your enemies from before you. I will make your reputation great, like that of the great ones on the earth. 10 I will set up a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them there. They will dwell there, and they will not be disturbed again. Violent men will not afflict them again as they did at the beginning 11 and ever since the day I appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies.

The Lord also declares to you that the Lord himself will make a house for you. 

16 Your house will stand firm, and your kingdom will endure forever before you. Your throne will be established forever.

Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may gladly receive the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ who was born as the fulfilment of your promise.

You may have either heard or said this common statement: “Life is what you make it”.

While there may be some truth to this statement, I wonder if our experiences this year would challenge this type of thinking?

I mean, what we wanted to make or do or plan this year has been turned upside down. We weren’t allowed to make what we wanted out of life because we were restricted in our movements. We couldn’t do what we wanted to do without putting others, or ourselves, at risk. Our plans and dreams were thrown into disarray and as a result we often feel frustrated, angry or disappointed.

Even our Christmas celebrations might look a bit different this year. It could be some of us won’t travel as far as we want to. Maybe some of our family and friends are choosing to stay home this year. Maybe our Christmas might be a bit more simplified.

In the end, life isn’t so much what we make of it, but it seems we just have to make do with what our life looks currently like and be thankful for whatever we receive.

But I wonder if God’s teaching us that we often get everything upside down, topsy-turvy and all muddled up?

In this way, life isn’t so much what we make it, but what God makes it. You don’t always get to make your life into what you want it to be, but you receive it. Similarly, you don’t make Christmas, but you receive Christmas.

Even King David seem to get it all mixed up.

Now, I know he never celebrated Christmas, but he too wanted to make and do something special. He had big plans, which even Nathan the prophet thought was a good idea, but God turned his wish on its head.

You see, King David had defeated all the enemies God wanted him to defeat, and finally had some time to sit back and look at making some improvements on the home front. Since he loved God, it must have startled him to realise that while he sat in his lovely palace, the Ark of the Covenant sat in a tent.

By now the Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandments, the budded staff of Aaron, and some manna, but it was much more than a glory box. The Ark of the Covenant was the most important holy item for all Israel and was also known as God’s throne. God sat on the Ark of the Covenant. So, where King David sat on his throne in a fine stone palace, right next door, God sat on his throne in a tent.

So David, like many people of faith, wanted to do something for God. He knew all the other gods of his enemies he had defeated had their own grand temples. Many considered that the bigger the temple, then the bigger and more powerful the god was. But if this is the case, then what would other people say about his God who resided in a tent? Perhaps all his enemies would laugh or tease them because their God was only powerful enough to sit in a worn-out tent!

David figured this wasn’t right, so he told the prophet Nathan he was planning to build a grand temple for God.

At first Nathan agreed, perhaps thinking this sounded like a good idea, but that night God told him otherwise. David won’t build a house for God, but God will build a house for David. This ‘house’ isn’t so much to be understood as a physical building, but a lasting dynasty for David.

You see, David, although well intentioned, had got it wrong. It wasn’t about what David did for God, but it was about what God does for David.

I wonder if we do the same sometimes?

Take for example our Christmas celebrations. If we think Christmas is only what we make it, then we’ve got it all wrong.

All the while when we busy ourselves with so many preparations we may end up with the wrong focus. Instead of receiving Christmas as a gift from God, we might think of it as an annoyingly busy time of frantic shopping and cooking and giving people what they want. Instead of meditating on the holy child born for us, we’re distracted by trees and lights and tinsel and food and shopping lists and all our other preparations.

Now of course there are many things to do, but Christmas is about receiving the glorious story of God coming into our weary world. It’s about receiving Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. It’s about receiving his peace and joy rather than manufacturing our own. It’s about receiving his saving gifts through his holy Word, his cleansing and adoption through holy baptism, and his forgiveness and fellowship through his holy Supper.

This is what Mary did in today’s gospel reading. She knew that by herself this remarkable promise couldn’t be completed. It was impossible for her, but with God all things are possible.

In the end she received this announcement from the angel as a gift. Life wasn’t what she made it but what she received from God. So she trusted God by saying, ‘may it be as you have said’. She received God’s Son into her womb as a gift through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Mary bore Jesus in her womb and gave birth to him, God’s promise to build a house, or rather, a dynasty for David, was ultimately fulfilled.

But even our own worship of God might end up having the wrong focus. Do you consider worship as something you do or make for yourself or God, or is worship instead something you receive as a gift from God? Is it a hassle to come to church and go through the pietistic motions, or is it like opening a gift from God every week? In other words, is your worship something you do for God, or is it God doing something for you?

Would your view of worship change if you heard God say through his messengers, “Well, I know you came here to do something for me. You want to make me happy. You want to praise me and be faithful to me, but let me instead do something for you. I want you to sit back and receive my gifts – the gift of my spirit-filled Word, the gift of my forgiveness and love, the gift of my faithful presence with you at all times, and the gift of my faith-sustaining sacraments.”

Now I know we have a nice building for worship. But do you realise God is just as magnificent and awesome here as he is in a tent? Although helpful, the building isn’t important. What God does in and among us is important.

We can’t make God any greater than he is, no matter how grand our building, how up to date our technology is, or how impressive our musicians are. Worship isn’t really about us doing things for God, but about what God does for us. Worship is about receiving God’s gifts.

Even your faith isn’t about what you do, but about what you receive. Many people ask, ‘what must I do to be saved?’ or even ask ‘what would Jesus do’. But it’s not about doing – it’s about receiving!

You don’t make your salvation, you don’t earn God’s pleasure, and you don’t manufacture your faith, but you receive all these things as a free and undeserving gift. St Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.’

You can’t even make yourselves into the people God wants you to be, but you receive his shaping, his pruning, and his growth. The Holy Spirit instructs you and sculpts you into the image of Christ, most of the time without your input. In this way, your tough times, your busy times, your lonely times, your desperate times, and your joyful times are all given to you as gifts to shape you and your faith. Even the events of this year, while disrupting and disturbing for many, are gifts from God to teach you about what’s really important. It’s not so much about you and what you want to do with your life, but about how you receive all things, including the tough things, from God through faith.

King David received a promise he didn’t ask for. Young Mary received a promise she didn’t ask for. They may not have made their life the way they wanted it to turn out, but they received these promises from God through faith. Their life, and our own lives, have been changed as a result of what they received from God.

Similarly, we also receive the Christ-child as the angel promised, the one who would ‘be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David’ (Lk 1:32).

We receive Christ as the still reigning successor of David, and as the final ruler of the House of David. We trust that his kingdom is far greater than that of his ancestor. We receive and trust the promise that through baptism, we have been grafted into Christ and his kingdom.

We receive the promise that all those who believe and are baptized are saved. After all, we’ve been grafted into the royal line of David through our baptism into Christ. Through faith we receive all the benefits of his royal words and work from his birth, obedience, suffering, death and resurrection.

As children in his royal household, we receive the forgiveness of all of our sins through faith in Jesus Christ. We receive Christ’s own righteousness. We receive peace and fellowship with himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We receive his guidance during our earthly lives as we’re led by our Good Shepherd. Even after our time in this world is finished, we trust we’ve already been received by Christ into his everlasting kingdom of heaven.

It doesn’t matter what type of year you’ve had, because you still get to receive all these heavenly gifts through faith. No virus or earthly restrictions can muck up what God gives you through faith. God keeps his promises and remains faithful to you.

Life isn’t always what you make it, but it’s about what you receive and how you receive it as you trust in our God who loves us so much he sent his dearly beloved Son into our troubled world for you and me.

So this Christmas, sit back and receive whatever God may give you in order to help you grow in faith and discipleship. Receive God’s promises and trust in them. Receive Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of God’s promise to David. Receive Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God as your eternal Lord and Saviour.

Receive the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, so that it will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.