December 24, 2017 “At Home” – II Samuel 7:1-16
II Samuel 7:1-16
December 24, 2017 – Fourth Sunday in Advent
This past year, on many Fridays and Saturdays, you could find our friend Stan working on the house he has been building. It’s not a house for himself or for a customer of his design and construction business. It’s a tiny house built with donated labor and materials of about 250 square feet in a new project called Emerald Village. Along with 21 other houses like it, it will make a huge difference in the life of someone who might otherwise be on the street.
What Stan and his friend helping him realize is the importance of a house. A house can change your life. At its best, a house offers peace and rest from all the work and worry of the world. Familiar walls and a comfortable chair can be a small sanctuary from your troubles. A house, to call “home,” no matter how small, is a gift.
David, the second king of Israel, had a big house. As our text opens, he is “settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies.” After years of fighting, there is peace. David may sit in his chair, on his throne, and relax. Yet David cannot rest easy. He is still disturbed. As he looks out the window of his house, he sees a tent.
A temporary shelter is pitched right in the middle of all the permanent structures constructed in David’s capital. It’s not a home for any human being. It is the Tabernacle, the tent which God directed Israel to construct to house the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark and its Tabernacle had traveled about with and in Israel for a couple hundred years while the people remained nomads struggling for permanent settlement. Now it had come to rest in the city of Jerusalem. And that bothered David.
Verse 2 tells how he voiced his concern to the prophet Nathan. Here was the king, living in a solid palace constructed of stone and cedar by the best craftsmen of the day, while the object which symbolized the presence of his God was sheltered from the rain only by animal skins. His personal comfort made him just that much more uncomfortable with the situation of the Ark. David wants to do something about it, to build God a house.
Nathan’s first reaction to David’s proposal is in verse 3. Like most of us religious professionals, he likes the idea of a building program. “Go, do all that you have in mind;” he tells the king. “for the Lord is with you.”
The Lord, though, had other ideas. Verse 4 tells how that very night Nathan was confronted by God. A house is not what the Lord wants right now. The message for David in verses 5 through 7 is that God has not asked for a house. He has been perfectly content to be in a tent carried from place to place. Of all Israel’s leaders, from Moses to Joshua to Gideon to Samuel to Saul, God had never requested a permanent dwelling.
That mobility of the Ark helped teach Israel an important lesson about God. The Lord is not like the gods of the nations around them. Those gods all had sacred places. Their sphere of influence was centered in a tree, in a rock, or in a building. But the Lord’s presence has no physical limits. He created the world and He inhabits all of it. To build Him a house in a single place might imply that He is less present in other locations. But verse 9 says, “I have been with you wherever you went.” He is everywhere. God does not need a house.
But you and I need houses. We need a place to sit down and rest, to lay our heads at night. I think about the unhoused people who are our guests here on cold nights and realize I have no real understanding of what it’s like for them. The closest I came was fifteen years ago in Greece. Our very last night there we expected to stay near the airport. But the hotel I planned on was full and so was everything else. Beth and I and our girls drove the length of the Attic Peninsula as light faded, wondering what to do. Beth and Susan will tell you I was as close to panic as I’ve known, trying to find a place to call home for that night. It gave me just a tiny glimpse into the situation of people on the streets in our own community, especially people like our parking guests who’ve recently lost permanent housing.
God does not need a house, but God wants us to have a home, to have a place in the world. That is what He told David in verse 10. The Lord made him a great king so that God could assure security and rest for His people: “And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more…”
That is what is going on in Israel and in Jerusalem and in Gaza and on the West Bank right now. Almost all Israelis and Palestinians just want a place to call home, where they can be undisturbed by evil people who terrorize and murder. But the deep, ancient problem is that they both want and lay claim to the same places and neither side knows how to compromise without losing everything, without losing the places they call home. We can only pray that God will show them all a solution.
God had a solution for David. God turned the tables on the king. He wanted to build a house for God. In a divine play on words in the second half of verse 11, God says that He will make a house for David. He’s not promising another palace. The house God will build is longer lasting. It’s a royal dynasty. It’s a “house” in the sense that the current royal family of England is called the House of Windsor. David will have a house of descendants who will continue to build his kingdom. David will not build God a house. God will build David a house. And by building David’s house God gave His people a place in the world.
The house God would build began with Solomon, David’s Son. We see it in verse 13. He is the one who actually built a house for God, the Temple, which David had in mind. Solomon grew up in a more quiet time. Inheriting peace and prosperity from his father, he had the wealth and leisure to construct a Temple for the Lord. Solomon could build God’s house because God built David’s house.
But this prophecy of the house God will build goes beyond Solomon. Verse 13 says “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Verse 17 promises David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever.” Solomon’s kingdom fell apart the day he died. His sons divided his kingdom and civil war split Israel down the middle. God’s promise to David was remembered, but it seemed like a lost dream. Israel’s place shrank. Their territory dwindled. As we heard from Isaiah the past two weeks, they finally lost all their land and went into exile. Their home in the world and the house built for God was gone.
The house of David and the house of God which David’s son built went the way of all dwellings on earth. Human beings and human constructions die and fall apart. Beth and I live in a house built just thirty years ago. We need a new roof, a new heating system and new carpet on the stairs and in the hallway. I greatly fear there is water from somewhere warping the floor under that carpet upstairs. It’s not going to last forever, even with our best efforts at maintenance. We can build ourselves places to live in this world for awhile, but no house lasts forever. Except one.
God kept His promise to make the house of David last. We read from Luke how two thousand years ago an angel came to a young woman engaged to marry a man born into David’s house. All Nathan’s prophecy to David was confirmed in what the angel said to Mary. Her son would be David’s greatest son. God would be His father. He would rule over the house of Israel. His kingdom would last forever. In the birth of the boy to be named Jesus, God would complete the house He promised to David a thousand years before.
The house God promised David and finally brought into existence through the virgin Mary, is the house you and I are looking for as well. In all the world, there is nowhere else we can feel as much at home.
That is why Christmas in the popular imagination is still connected with home and family. Even for those who have dropped all pretense of remembering the religious source of the holiday, there’s this urge to go home, like salmon returning upstream. Highways jam, airplanes fill, and buses roll. College students and grandchildren pack up and head for a place of comfort and belonging. When Christmas arrives they all want to be somewhere they can call “home.” Beth and I are so grateful that our daughter came home for Christmas this year. Others of you are experiencing that kind of joy today.
No one wants to be outside on Christmas. Bing Crosby sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and broke millions of hearts. Stories and television offer us poignant scenes like Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” peering into the window of the Cratchit home wanting to be part of the celebration. Ben Weaver on the “Andy Griffith Show” looks into Mayberry’s jail through the bars as a Christmas party begins. Scrooge reformed his life in order to join the Cratchits at Christmas dinner. Ben got himself arrested so he could come inside.
The homeward call of Christmas is not just tradition and sentimentality. It is based in something real. We flock home for Christmas because a home is there to be found, if we only look in the right place. Christmas is home because it is God building a house for us, the one true home we all have. Christmas is our home because in the baby Jesus, God came to you and me and welcomed us into the eternal house of His love.
There’s a bit of a paradox in our text today about David. He sets out to build God a house, but instead God promises to build a house for him. But when that promise is fulfilled in Jesus, the paradox and mystery is compounded to the heavens. No one loved Christmas more than G. K. Chesterton. And no one was better at expressing its mysteries and wonder than he. As Chesterton explained it, God created our home by becoming Himself homeless. I’d like to share with you his poem, “The House of Christmas.”
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.
For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay down their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.
A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.
I don’t know whether you will feel yourself at home this Christmas. You may be struggling with worries or grief or stress that makes being home something less than restful and joyful. You may feel so guilty for mistakes you’ve made or pain you’ve caused that you cannot imagine a merry Christmas at home. You may simply find it hard to believe that there is any real peace to be found anywhere.
Some of us feel frustrated this morning by our desire to provide at least for a little while a place for people who live on our city streets. It isn’t happening this Christmas after all because the weather didn’t turn as cold as expected. And it’s nice for us to be here in our regular place of worship this morning. But people are still out there. I met one Thursday afternoon, an old man with a shopping cart piled high with stuff covered with plastic garbage bags. He parked in our breezeway for a few minutes to catch his breath before moving on for a few hours until he could come back to spend the night again in our sanctuary. I looked at his worn and pretty much toothless face hidden in a ragged hood and wondered to myself, “How did you get here? You must have been a little boy once. You must have had a home once. How did you come to be here, now, like this?”
I’ve got no answer for that man except to pray and try to vote for measures and policies that will help rather than hurt men and women and children like him. And to work and support some of you to give him a place when the weather is really cold. But the final answer must come from God and that answer began when God Himself was homeless.
Because God became a homeless baby in a stable, there is a home for everyone. There is a home for those who literally have no housing and there is a home for the many of us who feel lost and not at home even in a house. David’s greater Son was born to build a house of rest and joy for anyone who believes in Him. As Paul was later to write in II Corinthians 5:1, “we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not made by hands.” That’s the house to which everyone is invited, to which you are invited.
Come home for Christmas. Come home into the light of God’s house. Come home to Jesus Christ. He’s made everything ready and the door is open. Amen.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2017 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj