A Reading from the Second Book of Samuel (7:1-11, 16)
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 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 and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 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, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. 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.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (16:25-27)
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (1:26-38)
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 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 said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“So, what would you like for Christmas?” That’s a question that people ask a lot this time of year; although December 21 is getting a little late to start asking. Finding out what people would like to have makes gift-giving a lot easier. More importantly, it helps to ensure that what you give someone is something that he or she really wants.
“What would you like for Christmas?” Depending on our gift-giving customs, we might ask that question of just one or two people or of many. But have you ever thought of asking God? “God, what would you like for Christmas?” We usually don’t think of things going that direction. We tend to see God as the one who is always giving the gifts – something like a great Santa Claus in the sky. We are always asking for what we want to get, not for what God might want us to give. And God wants us to give, not for God’s sake, but for ours.
When we neglect to ask God, or at least take time to think about what God might actually want from us, we can find ourselves in the same situation that we sometimes do with human beings. We can find ourselves giving a gift that God never wanted at all.
That seems to be what happened with David in our first reading today. David knew what he wanted, and he simply assumed that God must want the same things. David had conquered all his enemies and established his rule over all Israel. He had used his private army to capture Jerusalem and make it his city, and there he had built for himself a great palace. So David simply assumed that God must want a great palace, a great temple, too.
But, speaking through the prophet Nathan, God reminded David that God’s presence in Israel had always been focused on the moveable Ark of the Covenant that traveled from place to place. God had never been tied down to one place. And then God asked bluntly: “Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” God never wanted a temple because, among other things, temples are places that a god can be domesticated and made to legitimate and serve the purposes of the king, instead of the king serving the purposes of God.
But, as our reading continues, God didn’t stop there. God took the conversation in a different direction. “The Lord will build a house for you.” God’s focus was not on a grand, glorious, physical temple for God’s self, but on God’s promise to dwell in and among the people. They were to be God’s temple. Through David’s descendants, God would continue to be present with all of Israel: guiding them, caring for them, forming them into a sign of God’s presence and love for all people.
Over the centuries that followed, Israel continually forgot that lesson – that lesson about what God really wants — or maybe they just chose to ignore it. The prophets and psalms repeatedly criticized Israel for giving God lip-service and sacrifices of various kinds without giving God what God really wanted to begin with. As the prophet Micah famously put it (6:6-8): 6“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
As we approach this Christmas celebration and try to give to relatives and friends what they really want, maybe we could take some time to ask God that question: “What do you really want for Christmas?” Like David, we might just find that’s it’s not what we seem to want, nor is it what people often tend to give to God. We might just find that the God who still dwells in and among our fellow human beings still wants, most of all, for us to recognize God’s presence there and to care for them in God’s name. We might just find that God still wants, most of all, for us to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.