Summary: This Christmas season will you be thinking about the wonder of the immortal God taking on mortal flesh; the omnipotent God appearing in the form of a helpless vulnerable baby; the only begotten Son of God coming as one of us to take on himself the punish
We hear the Christmas story every year. The same events; the same characters; the same location. We sing Christmas carols that retell the story over and over again. But I wonder how many people as they watch Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve will see through the sentimentality of the occasion to the incredible paradox, in fact one might even suggest scandal, that we find in these stories?
Because here we find the Almighty Son of God, through whom the whole universe was created, arriving on earth as a dependant, vulnerable baby.
The wise men come bringing him gifts of enormous value - at least that’s what they think they’re bringing in homage to a king. Yet God has already given them a gift of inestimable worth: he’s invited them to enter into the heritage of the people of God, to move from their pagan background to become worshippers of the true and living God.
And of course for us today we know that despite him being the omnipotent God who can create worlds from nothing, who can do anything necessary to bring his kingdom to its fulfillment all by himself, he calls us to serve him, to do his will on earth. He uses us, weak human beings that we are, to show the world his power and glory.
Sometimes though, this responsibility of being God’s agents here on earth gets too much for us. We get worried that if we’re not careful God’s kingdom might fail. e.g. when you hear people using God’s name as a swear word do you feel like you should say something? Are you offended when you watch a movie where the most common swear word used is ’Jesus Christ’. Some people get really cross when this happens and try to censor those around them. Yet we all know that God is perfectly able to defend his own name.
Well, David was faced with the same paradox, the same dilemma when he got to the point of being settled in his kingdom. I guess he knew that it was God who’d enabled him to overcome all his enemies and establish his kingdom. But still, he thought God needed to be looked after. He was embarrassed that the God of Israel was still being worshipped in a tent rather than in a temple that matched his stature as the Living God, the Lord of Hosts. Other nations around about had temples for their gods but all Israel had was a mere tent!
So he did what human beings so often do. He sat down and thought up a plan to save God’s reputation. He had a palace of his own. Now he’d build a palace, well, a temple, for God.
Nathan the prophet heard this plan and immediately thought it was a good idea. After all, God had been on David’s side his entire life, surely he’d applaud this desire to give God a suitable place to live in.
Now Nathan at this moment wasn’t really thinking very clearly was he? He was carried away by the magnificence of the gesture, perhaps he was even imagining himself presiding over this magnificent structure; but he hadn’t thought through the theological assumptions behind the plan.
You can see what he missed can’t you?
What he’d missed was that you can’t tie God down to a place. You can’t just build a temple and tell everyone that that’s where God dwells. That’s actually a pagan idea: to think that God is bound by geography.
So God tells Nathan in a dream that David has got it all wrong. He doesn’t need David to protect his honour. He actually likes living in a tent. He likes being seen moving among his people, in a figurative sense at least. In fact not only does he not need looking after, he has plans to look after David. He’s the one who’ll build a house for David. So he reminds David that all his success is the result of what God has done for him.
I mean, it’s not as though David was born for greatness is it? He wasn’t groomed from an early age to become a king the way princes are. He was just a lowly shepherd, the youngest of eight brothers. He seems to have forgotten what he told Saul when Goliath was threatening the Israelites: that God had looked after him all his life. But now God was reminding him. He was the one who’d cut off all his enemies from before him, who’d made him king and now he was going to go one step further. He was going to make him a name that would be among the greatest names in history. He was going to build him a house. Not a house of bricks and mortar but a royal household, a line of kings that would form an everlasting kingdom.