Sermon: God’s House (Advent 4, Year B)

Icon of Mary with Jesus visible in the center

Advent 4, Year B

St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, Lodi, CA

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Luke 1:26-38

It’s been 9 months. We’ve been waiting and fretting for 9 months. Almost 10. 40 whole weeks.  That is how long a human pregnancy takes. 40 weeks ago, in church time, was when the passage we heard today took place. 40 weeks ago, Mary heard God’s plan for the salvation of the world and said “I’m here, let that divine plan be done”. It feels a little weird to be reading this story today, with the Baby Jesus almost here, and the story of his conception a long 40 weeks ago. I can imagine Mary being indignant at our lectionary: “you’re reading this story today?? I carried that boy for 40 WEEKS and you only remember it, what, 4 DAYS before his birthday?”

Sunday March 15 was exactly 40 weeks ago, and that was the first Sunday that I worshiped over Facebook live and had a zoom coffee hour. 40 weeks since I’ve been with my parish in person. This is the first time I’ve been inside a church since March. 40 weeks of waiting and staying at home. 40 weeks of constantly preparing for disasters we don’t know how to face.

I don’t know about you, but over the past 40 weeks I’ve gained an exacting knowledge of my entire house. I know where every carpet stain is as I pace around my living room to get my fitbit steps. I have watched the kitchen spider build a web and catch the fruit flies I can’t. I’ve watched my aloe plant grow on the window sill behind my laptop screen as I sit in 6 or more zoom meetings every day. Home has become very familiar. 40 weeks. 40 weeks of waiting for salvation from the pandemic. We mark the season of Advent with only 4 weeks. It is a time of intentional waiting, preparation, and contemplation. A time to prepare for the incarnation of God in the baby Jesus…but this year, it seems that we’ve been given, or more like, we’ve been forced into, an Advent for 40 entire weeks. 40 weeks of anxiously waiting!

Waiting for a baby to be born is so different from waiting for a plague to pass. But both are filled with uncertainty, uncomfortable days, fear, and also hope. It wasn’t just a baby Mary waited 40 weeks for. It was a baby who she would call Jesus. We’ve obscured the meaning of the name through transliteration and multiple languages and centuries. The J in Jesus probably traces it’s origins to the divine name of God revealed to Moses. And the name Jesus derives from a phrase meaning “God rescues or saves”. Jesus literally means “salvation”. Mary wasn’t just waiting to deliver a baby, she was waiting for deliverance from God. She was waiting for the salvation of the world. And, I don’t know about you, but I’m waiting for that too.

In our reading from Samuel today, King David has secured his reign in Israel. And so he endeavors to secure the presence of God in his kingdom by building God a house. At first glance, even Nathan, God’s prophet approves of the plan. But God says “hold up a second, I didn’t ask for this. I’ve lived in a tent for decades, it’s cool. I didn’t ask for a house. I’ve been with you this whole time, wherever you’ve lived. When you’ve wandered with the sheep, I was there, and now that my people are building their houses here, I’m here too. And you know what, I’m making this house, your house eternal. No more worrying about enemies or having to wander around and scrabble for a place to be. Here is your home, our home, forever.” Now, that didn’t exactly work out like David probably expected. David’s kingdom hardly survived a single generation. And then David’s house was destroyed and the people of Israel were eventually scattered into exile. Had the people of God been abandoned? Where was their home?

The pandemic has made me ever more grateful for my house. I chafe under being forced to stay in a tiny apartment for my own safety, but I am so, so, grateful for the protection and comfort my house provides. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to the people of Israel to be exiled from their home. From the house they thought was going to be established forever. How would they weather the plague of enemies without it? Where can salvation come from when there’s no safe house and God has abandoned the people he promised to save?

“Your house shall be made sure forever before me” God promises David. Centuries later, and 400 years after the last Biblical prophet spoke God’s message to the people of Israel, the angel Gabriel delivers a message. Salvation is about to arrive. Jesus. “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The promise made to David will be redeemed through Jesus. The house of Jacob (also known as Israel) is about to be established forever. The centuries of waiting and anxiety and wandering are coming to an end. The people of God will have their house once more, and, most miraculously of all – God is literally going to move in. For Jesus is not only a baby with an auspicious name. He is literally God incarnate. The divine word, as we’ll hear about next week. The God who would not be contained by a splendid cedar house in David’s time is going to bring salvation to the world by making his home here with us, as a human.

Advent is the time when we contemplate the incarnation of God and prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas. And it is also a time to prepare for the second coming of the Lord Jesus in his glory. Every week of this pandemic. All 40 of them that we’ve all been waiting, has felt like Advent to me. Lord, come quickly, I have found myself praying so often. Whenever I hear the new numbers. Whenever I see some headline about not only the covid pandemic, but the pandemic of homelessness, or the persistence of racism and violence. I pray for the salvation of the world. Lord, come quickly.

Today we still cannot gather safely in person. We’ve waited 40 weeks, enough time for an entire baby to be conceived and born. And yet we still wait. Salvation from this pandemic is beginning to be born, however. The time of delivery is at hand. I think most immediately of vaccines. But also for the perseverance of our medical workers in in caring for us. The endurance of our farm workers in producing our food. And the persistence of hope as the rest of us continue making our world in our homes. Our collect today gives me that hope. God’s daily visitation purifies us. Prepares us. So that when our prayers of “Lord, come quickly” are answered, Jesus finds a home in us. David wanted to build God a house out of wood. But God made a home with us in Jesus. And by the daily visitation of God in us now, a house, an entire mansion even, can be prepared for Jesus. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Make your house here.

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