2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text for this final Sunday in Advent comes from our Old Testament reading in the book of Second Samuel, where we heard: “the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house…And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.”1 These are the words of God that come to David through the prophet Nathan. He brings these words as a course correction to a plan hatched by David, a plan to have a house built for Almighty God. The situation is this: the ark of the covenant is now in Jerusalem, and now there is a time of peace for David and the kingdom of Israel, a time without the wars and strife that had occupied him for so long. There is also now a palace for David to live in as well. I’m sure it’s a very nice palace, lots of bedrooms, nice views, some palm trees, some servants to wait on him. So David wants God to have what he has, a nice beautiful palace made of stone and cedar.
Perhaps we can picture David gazing out upon the tent where the ark was placed in Jerusalem from the lavish confines of his palace and starting to think that there was something wrong with this picture. This was probably a very nice tent where they placed the ark, not just something they scrounged up out of the attic, but still, it would have been a tent, perhaps fashioned in a similar manner to the tabernacle of old. David begins to wonder, a plan begins to form: why not build God something nice? A house, a temple? So David calls in the prophet to give his plan the “once over” – “the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.”2 At first Nathan thinks it’s a good idea, but that night the course correction comes to him in a dream. “The word of the Lord came to Nathan, ‘Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would youbuild me a house to dwell in?’’”3
You see, David was acting presumptuously to think that he knew what was best for God. His intentions may seem good from the outside, but anytime a person starts down this path of thinking that God’s needs are knowable from our perspective, anytime we start thinking that we can meet those needs with our own works, then we are treading on thin ice. We run the risk of losing sight of God’s nature, who he is, and who we are in the sight of God. Along with that, making matters even worse, we run the risk of trying to make God in our own image, which is simply idolatry. Of course this still happens all the time in the Christian Church. People want to think that they know what’s best for God, what God wants, because we think God wants what we want. We think that the actions of people glorify God. We think that God is glorified by all the things we aspire to: fine, fancy buildings, and by having lots of programs and lots of people in those programs. So we set our sights on those things thinking that it must be good, is must be God pleasing, even though really, those are the things that are people pleasing. But Jesus says, “Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”4
Surely David would have been disappointed when he received the news from Nathan that he must not proceed with his building plans. He so wanted to do something special for God, to build something great. But through the prophet God says, “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling.”5 You see, God is the one who decides how he comes to his people. The initiative belongs to him. So when we start to think that we know what is best for God we need to remember this same basic point that God speaks to David: that God is God, and we are not. What seems from our perspective to glorify God is actually sinful. What appears to us not worthy of his great glory is in fact the salvation of the world. Now we can see what a clear Advent message this is, for God comes to us as a baby lying in the manger, born of the Virgin Mary, a girl from a little backwater town no one knew. God comes not in a glorious palace surrounding by the fine things of this earth, but into the most humble of surroundings, worshipped not by kings and queens and celebrities, but by humble shepherds.
Our worship therefore reflects the way God comes to us, for God always takes the initiative, the service is his, and we respond. In the same way we must always recognize that the Church is not defined in our terms. The Church belongs to God, and therefore he tells us what it is, and where it may be found. We might want to say that the “house of the Lord” is the building in which God’s people gather to sing and pray and receive the Sacrament. Perhaps we too easily and too often talk about the Church as the building. But the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions never speak in those terms. The Church is known as the people – but not all people, specifically believers in Christ, and even more specifically believers in Christ who gather around the Word which is rightly preached and the Sacraments which are instituted according to our Lord. There’s nothing about buildings and programs, for God tells us what his Church is and where it may be found. Sure, it’s nice to have those things because they help us “be the Church,” they aid in the mission of repentance and discipleship that we are called to join. But, with or without nice buildings, God’s Word will go forth, and the Sacraments will be administered; the Church will go forth with or without the things that hold our attention from an earthly standpoint. The Church is what Gods says, not what we say, and not what we want it to be. The “house of the Lord,” God’s house, is where his people are joined together with Christ as His holy bride, a new creation by water and Word, and for her life He died.6
David is our object lesson this morning. He had a bright idea, but it didn’t correspond with God’s plan. David wants to build a house for God, but God is the one who will do the building: “the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”7 So David’s plans must be cast aside in favour of God’s plans, for “the God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”8 I like the way pastor and writer Eugene Peterson puts it: “There are times when our grand human plans to do something for God are seen, after a night of prayer, to be a huge human distraction from what God is doing for us. That’s what Nathan realized that night: God showed Nathan that David’s building plans for God would interfere with God’s building plans for David.” The plan of God is made known to David by God’s word, and it is a plan full of promises. God promises David that he will have a great name. He promises to appoint a place for the people Israel. Rather than David building a house for God, God promises David that he will build him a house. “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”9
Just what this means become evident in the Gospel reading today, for twice St. Luke brings us back to the line of David when he writes the Good News of the coming of the Messiah. First we hear, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.”10 Then the angel says, “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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”11 The promise of God’s favour to David would not depart from David’s dynasty, which would start with his son Solomon, who incidentally would in fact end up building a grand temple in Jerusalem. But that temple was relatively short lived, and it’s not there anymore, for “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands.”12 David would have an enduring, eternal kingdom not because of any earthly structure, but because out of his line would come the Son of God, who ushers in the kingdom of heaven, where we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. So we draw a straight line from David’s building plans – which were replaced by God’s blueprints for salvation – to the Baby who comes to us in Bethlehem.
Therefore Jesus comes as the fulfillment of all of God’s building plans. The temple has moved to Mary’s womb, for Jesus in His Person is the new temple. Where He is God is also. So if you want to find God that’s where you will find Him from that moment on, you will find Him in the Person of the Son of God, the Word made flesh who comes to dwell among us. And of course not only is Jesus the temple, the place where God may be found, but He is also the high priest who intercedes on our behalf, an intercession made with His very blood as the one sacrifice necessary to take away our sins. Jesus is born in order to accomplish this, to take our place in deserving the wrath of a holy and righteous God poured out on sinners. Now all of those who really could not be in God’s kingdom on our own – that’s all of us, brothers and sisters – can go in through an open door, thanks be to God because of His intervention. The door is Christ Jesus. May we alway believe this. Praise be unto God our Father that he chose this way and performed this great miracle, the incarnation, that he became man and suffered for our sins. This is the building plan of God, for you, unto life eternal. Amen.
1 2 Sa 7:11b, 16.
2 2 Sa 7:2.
3 2 Sa 7:4–5.
4 Lk 12:31.
5 2 Sa 7:6.
6 LSB 644.
7 2 Sa 7:11.
8 Ac 17:24–25.
9 2 Sa 7:16.
10 Lk 1:26–27.
11 Lk 1:32–33.
12 Ac 7:48.