Sermon Text

December 18, 2011 11:15 AM • Advent IV

Sermon

The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope

The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope

The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope

Transcribed from audio recording.

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation that when your son Jesus Christ at his coming sees us, he will find in us a mansion prepared for himself. Amen.

How do we prepare the mansion within us, within our home and temple, to welcome the Christ child into our lives?

In our weekly staff meeting on Monday we began, as we always do, reading Scripture and then having a few moments to reflect on what we just heard and to share, if we care to, the insights that we have received at its reading. This particular Monday I shamelessly told the group that I was going to use the Scripture reading appointed for today upon which I was basing my sermon because I could use all the help I can get it. So I read that passage that you just heard, a portion of the seventh chapter of 2 Samuel, and when I finished reading I looked around and saw all the heads bowed; the eyes closed; the brows furrowed in deep concentration. It seemed that people were lingering over that reflection a little longer than usual. Finally one of my beloved colleagues looked up and looked at me and said, “So what’s the gospel reading for Sunday?” Fair enough.

At first blush that passage from 2 Samuel seems like an odd choice for this fourth Sunday of Advent when we’re all preparing to welcome the Christ child in our hearts once again. But theologians like Walter Brueggemann and other noted Hebrew Scripture scholars have said that the seventh chapter of 2 Samuel is one of the most important in all of Hebrew Scriptures. So it begs the question, why? And why is it juxtaposed with the other lessons appointed for today? What’s so vital about it? What was so important in that day and, more importantly, what does it have to say to us today? So I invite you to explore with me for a few minutes that enigmatic passage from 2 Samuel.

We find in that passage King David who has just established his reign over Judah and Israel. Like a good king who is establishing himself, he’s built a really nice house for himself; he’s got his own city, the city of David, Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant has been brought into David’s royal city. And David, now that he’s feeling nice and established decides that, “Perhaps, it’s time for God to have a house now that I have a really nice house.” So he shares that with the prophet Nathan and Nathan thinks it’s a great idea and says, “The Lord will be with you.” Then Nathan has a dream where God says, “Tell David, who are you to build me a house?” And then God recites for Nathan to tell David, “Remember I’m the one who was with you; who chose you; who was by your side to help you cut off your enemies and to establish your kingdom. Furthermore I’ve been doing just fine without a house, moving around in a tent, doing what I feel led and called and need to do; going where my people are”—essentially telling David “Don’t box me in.”

How often do we presume to know what God wants, what God wants of us and how often do we try to box God in to our own perceptions and our own needs? Then in a wonderful wordplay on house God tells Nathan, “Tell David you’re not going to build me a house but I’m going to build you a house. It’s a wordplay from a dwelling place to a dynasty. And he says, “Not only that, I’m going to establish your kingdom, the Royal Davidic line, forever. It was huge at the time because the Israelites prior to that had been living under the Mosaic covenant, the covenant given to Moses at Sinai where God said, “I will be your God and you will be my people if you follow my Commandments. It was a conditional covenant and what God has done in establishing the Davidic covenant is to make it unconditional. “I’ve chosen you, David; and your heirs will have the everlasting covenant.”

It was from that passage, from that Davidic covenant, that Judaism had a hope of the Messiah. It is from that Davidic covenant that early Christians looked at that and very carefully used that to undergird the fact that Jesus was from the house of David—from the Royal Davidic line—and that Jesus’ kingdom would be established forever. The angel Gabriel, not by accident, tells us that Joseph was from the House of David and that Jesus will come in that line, in that royal line, and his kingdom will be established forever. Think about the irony of that; God chose not to dwell in any house that David was going to build but rather to take on human flesh and make his home in Mary’s womb so that Christ would be born—God’s greatest gift for that time and for all time.

The question to us becomes, how do we prepare the mansion within us, within our home and temple to welcome the Christ child into our lives? In his work entitled “The Anthem,” Leonard Cohen wrote: “Ring the bells that still ring; forget your perfect offering; everything has a crack in it; that’s how the light gets in.” Each one of us is a cracked vessel; so how do we let the light in and what are we letting in to change us, to transform us? In his recently published memoir All is Grace, Brennan Manning talks about his cracked life and how the light came into his life in a very unexpected and transformative way.

Brennan Manning is a noted writer, preacher, teacher, former Franciscan, and recovering alcoholic. In his memoir he talks about his very troubled childhood, that he was abused physically, verbally, and emotionally. His mother told him he was a dreamer and wouldn’t amount to anything. So at the age of about seven or eight he decided to just emotionally shut down and be a good Catholic boy because having feelings was too hard and too painful. He was on a quest to find purpose and meaning in his life. He joined the Marines and after his service he went to college and in his sophomore year of college he had a dream, a dream he calls “the pretties.” In that dream he had a pretty nice house, a pretty fast car, a pretty wife, a pretty good job. He even managed in his dream to win the Nobel Prize for literature; it was a really pretty dream with everything he thought he longed for, everything he thought would give his life meaning. When he awakened from that dream he said, “My God, there has to be more; there has to be more.”

After that amazing dream he was so troubled by it that he sought out a spiritual director at the university and he went to see him and told him all about his life and his dream and his desire for more. The spiritual director looked at him and said, “Maybe the more you are seeking is God.” With the impulsiveness of a 21-year-old, he immediately left college and enrolled in a Franciscan seminary. His brother told him he didn’t think he’d last a last week and he almost didn’t. He decided after a few days that he’d given God a chance but this was a huge mistake, a terrible mistake. What was he thinking?” He packed up his bags. He was going to see Father Augustine to tell him goodbye on his way out of town. But Father Augustine wasn’t in his office. So he decided to go to the chapel and kill time. He decided that as long as he was there he might as well do the Stations of the Cross—a good Catholic boy. So he was making his way around the chapel with the Stations of the Cross. He got to the 12th station: “Jesus dies on the cross” and he did as his prayer book instructed. He knelt; he read the prayer and just as he was kneeling he heard the bell ring indicating that it was noon.

He describes in his book something truly indescribable: that he was taken into a totally different realm that he describes as terra incognita-an unfamiliar place. He found himself at the very heart of Jesus surrounded by love—unconditional love—something he’d never experienced in his life. He was changed and he was transformed. He was told in that time that his life mattered. Even though he was a cracked vessel, he was loved more than he could possibly ask or imagine. And even with all of that the more came. Jesus called him by name, not his given name, but a name that was unique to him given to him by Christ. When he came out of that time it was three hours later and he writes that it wasn’t that he had found the more, the more found him—that Christianity was not some moral code; it was a love affair and he’d experienced it firsthand. You see, I believe that that’s God’s desire for each one of us—cracked vessels that we are. God loves us more than we can ask or imagine—enough to take on human flesh and dwell among us.

We’re one week from Christmas. What’s the more in your life? What are you desiring? What are you longing for? What are you missing in your life? “Ring the bells that still ring; forget your perfect offering; everything has a crack in it; that’s how the light gets in.”

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation that your son Jesus Christ at his coming may find in us a mansion prepared for himself. Amen.