Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When was the last time you were lonely? Loneliness is a very real part of our human experience. For some, this pandemic has simply made their loneliness feel that much worse. I’m sure some here could agree that at times, going through this pandemic has been very lonely. The internet can keep some of us connected to hundreds of people online, but we might not even see one person’s face. We have to keep our distance from people to avoid spreading of the virus. No hugs, no handshakes. We have missed out on family events and spending time with friends. We’ve missed dining out and concerts. But most of all, we are missing relationships. It is almost certainly true that this epidemic has left most of us with a feeling of loneliness. We can feel like no one is there for us, or no one cares about us, or no one would miss us if we were gone. It can even feel like God himself is distant from us. This kind of loneliness is overwhelming and can be devastating to our souls. The texts for this Fourth Sunday in Advent have something to say to those feelings of loneliness.
A House Built for David
We find David in our first reading after he has finally risen to power. When Saul died, civil war broke out between the house of Saul and David. Eventually, David was victorious and crowned king also over Israel. He captured the city of Jerusalem, made it his capital, and brought the ark of the covenant to stay in his new capital.
As our first reading opens, we find the king living in his house and at rest from all his trials and tribulations. But in his fancy palace, something is bugging David. What is that something? The house for the ark of the Covenant is a simple tent that Moses made. So David gets a thought: “Is a tent good enough of a home for the Lord who has delivered Israel through turbulent times? This God deserves a temple; a big one!”
A new king with a fancy new palace of his own, has a grand idea to build a big fancy temple for God. But God has other ideas. God, through the prophet Nathan, reminds David of who and God is—omnipresent, not tied down to one place, not a genie in a bottle, not so high and mighty to refuse to dwell in a humble tent. Before King David rushes to make sure God has a dwelling place his new capital city, God reminds David that no such thing is required.
No such thing is required because God has always been with his people. God was the one who brought Israel out of Egypt. He was the one who lead them through the desert. God gave them the promised land. God has been with Israel every step of the way. Israel was not alone. God reminds David that it was he who took David from being a simple shepherd boy and made him the king over his chosen people. The Lord did that. God gave him victory over Goliath. It was God who led him to victory after victory. It was God who prevented Saul, the Philistines, and all David’s enemies from prevailing against him. Even when David felt the loneliest, God never left him. God protected him, guided him. God goes wherever his people go. No matter what happens, he’s with them. David was not alone. God has always been with David and Israel. God was at work in all of their turbulent times. He dwells among his people.
Let’s pause for a moment and consider that: God was at work in the turbulent times of Israel’s history. He never abandoned them. God has always been at work in your life, no matter how hard it may have been. As we journey through trying times, God is with us. We are not alone. God is not absent from our mess. God is committed to seeing us through to the other side. God is actively handling every circumstance we encounter, and is preparing us for what is next.
God prepared David for what was next. “You will not build me a house,” replied the Lord, “I shall build you a house.” And the house that God builds is not a stone house four walls either. What God, promised to do for David was to establish a double kingdom. One would be an earthly kingdom, ruled by David’s house. The Lord chose David. The Lord brought him to a position of prominence in order to establish a dynasty, a line of kings, whose rule would last forever. God doesn’t need a home. God sees that its Israel needs a home. Through the Davidic kings, God ruled his people. Through Solomon’s Temple, God dwelt among his people.
A House Built through Christ
The second kingdom would be an everlasting kingdom, ruled also by a member of David’s family. God is repeating the covenant promise to David that was once made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Did you catch what God said to David? “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). That is the promise of a king who will rule forever. Consider our Gospel reading again: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27). The angel Gabriel made the fulfilment of God’s promise clear to Mary when he said: “You will bear a son… He will be great.… And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom will be no end” (Lk 1:31–33).
God has not abandoned us. No, he became one of us, a human with flesh and blood just like us. The Tabernacle and Solomon’s temple were the place where God dwelt among his people. God himself dwelt in the Holy of Holies which was overshadowed by a cloud. The presence of the Holy Spirit, and the ‘overshadowing’ of the Most High, are on Mary. Mary’s womb became the dwelling-place of the living God. In Mary’s womb is the new temple, and God himself dwells there. God has become the heir to David’s throne. Those promises to David came true in ways he never imagined. God found at last the house, neither canvas tent nor stone temple, but human flesh and blood. That’s the awe of Christmas. God was covered in the blood and amniotic fluid. God was with the beasts, nursing from the milk of an unwed teen in the cover of night. God was born of Mary. God is Mary’s Son and Mary is God’s mother. She is the true mother of God and brought God into the world. God nursed from Mary. Mary suckled God. Mary rocked God to sleep, prepared food for God. Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” God was in a womb. God was in a tomb.
Mary is also a picture of every baptised believer. You too are highly favoured by God, a recipient of His undeserved kindness. The Holy Spirit has come upon you in your Baptism, and the power of God working through the Word has shadowed over you. And while you don’t conceive Christ, nevertheless Christ takes up residence in us. He dwells in your heart. We are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). God dwells among us. He dwells among us by His Word as He dwells in us by faith. We are heirs of this promise to David. Since God himself dwells in us, we can never truly be alone.
There will be moments of loneliness. There will. But we are not truly alone. Not ever. God is with us – this is the gift of Emmanuel. During the loneliness of this pandemic, during the added loneliness of celebrating Advent and Christmas during a pandemic, maybe we need to hear again those words to David and the reminder that God has always been with us. God goes where his people go. No matter what happens, he’s with you. You are not alone. Christ dwells in your heart by faith (Eph. 3:17). God was at work throughout your life, even the tough times. Our God dwells among his people. The Lord is with you. God built a house for David. He built a house of flesh and blood in Mary’s womb. And he builds a house in you by faith. That’s the house that God built, because he is Emmanuel, God is with us.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.