Sermon Dec 20 St Ambrose Aranui
2 Samuel 7:1-16
What is a house? In our reading from Samuel we see two meanings of a house. First. David starts thinking about the house he lives in – a house of cedar. The best wood, beautiful and sweetly scented, imported from Lebanon. The cedar tree is so important to Lebanon, even now, that it is on their national flag.
David had peace and rest from fighting, and starting looking round for a new project. Why not build God a house? I live here in this lovely building, but God lives in a tent! Surely this can’t be right?
This idea came from the bright ideas department – you know, the one where we get all starry-eyed about what a wonderful project our idea will be, and how it will look, without looking at all the consequences, and all the steps and resources involved. But David was a king and was accustomed to getting his own way. He had yet to learn the hard way in the sorry tale of his involvement with Bathsheba, but in this reading David does indeed listen to the words of the prophet Nathan. “Are you the one to build me a house? Said the Lord. I have been in a tent all the time I have been with you. Did I ever speak a word with any of the leaders of Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”
Well, this should be the end of the bright ideas department. David knew then that building the house for the Lord was not for him, and later on we read that his son Solomon was the one to undertake the project.
But God has more to say to David about the future, and promises him, ‘I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.’
Then God uses the other meaning of house, that is, a family line, a dynasty.
‘Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.
Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.’
Can you imagine what was going through David’s mind? No more worrying about getting another load of cedar from Lebanon, but thoughts of the future. This meant that his children, and his children’s children, for ever, would be kings! An awesome future, but also a huge responsibility.
We like watching those archaeology programmes on Choice on a Monday night, and what is obvious is that even where there is a line of descent from one pharaoh or king to another for several generations, after a while it changes. There may be no clear successor in the bloodline, or there may be war and the nation is defeated by another. This had certainly been the story in Israel, and was to continue that way until the present day really, if you think about all the nations who have ruled over that area.
But, in a typical ‘God’ way, it was not just the earthly that was being referred to here.
If we skip froward a thousand years from the time of David, the angel Gabriel in our reading from Luke tells Mary, and us, more about this house:
‘And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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.’
Mary and her betrothed, Joseph, were both of the house and lineage of David, that is, they were direct descendants of David. It’s a bit like being an O’Brien makes my husband a direct descendant of Brian Boru, high king of Ireland. Just as in Mary’s story, this one also goes back a thousand years.
Mary would have been wondering about this one, because even though they had a famous ancestor, they were just ordinary people. Why this baby? Why now? She might have been wondering.
The Jewish people were under occupation, and had long been looking for the Messiah, for the anointed one to lead them to victory and peace. Many thought this would be a military sort of operation, and May would have known the prophecies. But when she thought about the last sentence the angel said, she may well have realised that this was more than an earthly, political solution to oppression, but rather the fulfilment of a long prophecy.
“He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart, we are told.
Of his kingdom there will be no end. This must surely refer to God’s kingdom – a time when all is fulfilled and the world is restored to peace in God’s eternal presence. Earthly kingdoms rise and fall, so we know that this is talking about something outside the earthly, something of God.
There is another meaning for the House of God too. It refers to the church. It doesn’t just mean the building – we know here in St Ambrose that the worship space is not relevant to the gathering. Our big lovely church building is looking a bit sad at the moment while it is being earthquake-repaired, and this lounge we meet in takes on the duty of sacred space because this is how we use it. The church is where people gather, anywhere. It is the people gathered, it is us. We can be church no matter where we are, it’s the gathering together that is the point. The old Greek word for church, ‘ecclesia’, means ‘called out’. We are people called out from our ordinary world to do something special, to make the house of God, to be the place where God dwells with us. Yes, it is possible to worship God alone, to praise God, to pray, to read scriptures. But it is in coming together that we build the house. Our word ‘communion’ means being together. This was really obvious during lockdown when we couldn’t meet, and wasn’t it wonderful to come together again?
What are our readings today telling us about the house of God? That it is not a building, that it is a God-led family. Human families can disappoint and frustrate us, and sometimes we have to walk away. The family of God isn’t perfect all the time either, and just as in a real family there will be differences and troubles, and the family of God will have its tensions. But if we all turn our eyes upon Jesus, and follow his example, we will grow the house of God here on earth, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
This Christmas time, as you contemplate Jesus, a tiny baby born so long ago, may you know that you are part of the house of God, for ever.