Expansive Promise

2 Samuel 7: 1-13, 16    Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Luke 1: 26-38   December 24, 2017

“He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Prayer:  Holy and eternal God, God of light and love on our journeys, we are so near, so close to the birth of your Son.  May we feel your presence as we worship you.  Amen.

Just the other day, Mom, Barb and I watched a movie called “Victoria and Abdul.”  Any of you ever seen it?  Interesting film that touches on racism, power, and aristocracy.  One of the more humorous (and distressing) things about the story is how everything revolved around Queen Victoria. She was catered to. If she was eating her soup, the other guests at the table could eat their soup.  As soon as the queen stopped, her soup bowl was taken away… and so were the soup bowls of all the guests, whether they were finished eating or not!  If the queen stood up after a singer’s performance, everyone stood up.  And so on.  At the time, Queen Victoria was the most powerful person in the world, and of course, she lived in the finest castle, the Windsor Castle.  Abdul, a Muslim servant from India becomes her close friend, teacher, and confidant.  Before long, Queen Victoria figures out that Abdul was living in servants quarters.  She immediately orders that he live in the guest house in a fine bed. Abdul and his friend were totally amazed.

Those parts of the movie remind me of today’s Bible story. In the biblical days, King David was among the most powerful of world leaders.  He and his armies fought many nations and were against plenty of other kings.  But, there came the time that there was a relative peace over the land. And David had everything he wanted. He was catered to. And David got to thinking… he was living in a fine house made of cedar, and there was the ark of God housed in a tent.  Something seems terribly out of balance here.  So, with typical human thinking, David has in mind to build the finest temple for God and the ark.

But, God’s thinking is the opposite.  God tells the prophet Nathan to go to David and ask, “Are you the one to build me a house?  Have I ever asked, ‘Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?’”

And leave it to God, this becomes a perfect opportunity to make a metaphor out of an ordinary item.  “Moreover,” says God to David through Nathan, “I will make you a house!” not as in a building, like David is thinking, but as in a family… as in a large amount of descendants and relatives, as in a dynasty, a kingdom in the future, which would be part of the House of David… standing on the promises God made from the past in Genesis, that this house would be the House of Jacob.

This is a promise that is much more than David’s son Solomon building a temple for God, which Solomon does.  It’s an expansive promise, one that sees a kingdom that shall endure forever!  A promise that sees the realm of God coming to earth, ever expanding outward with the birth of Jesus.

The angel Gabriel tells Mary that the baby conceived in her womb will be great. His name will be Jesus, and he will be called the Son of the Most High, and God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  Not a throne as in the human way of thinking, like Queen Victoria sitting on her throne, governing as the High Empress of England and India… but a throne as in the head of a spiritual household… as in a large amount of spiritual descendants and relatives.  Gabriel says that Jesus will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of this realm there will be no end!

In other words, God’s promise expands all the way to us!  We are of the House of Jesus!  Which is the expanded version of the house of David.  Which was the expanded version of the house of Jacob.  God’s promise to Abraham, Jacob, David, Jesus, us! Jesus’ birth actually expands God’s promise made long ago, as was spoken by the prophets, and even earlier by God.

God’s realm comes alive in Jesus—and in that realm, what God values comes alive, too.  God values love.  God values covenant with us.  God values justice and fairness and dignity for all people.  God values those who are down due to no cause of their own. 

And I believe God values similar practices from us.  So, much of human thinking gets turned upside down and expanded from there. 

Unjust social structures are overturned.  Hungry people are fed, physically and spiritually.  The wealthy sacrifice for the good of the whole.  Tax policies benefit the poor and average citizen.  Schools and churches and other places of worship and other public areas like concert arenas are safe.  World leaders seek peaceful coexistence.  Churches everywhere promote and practice all-inclusivity.  People in power humbly recognize the value of all human beings and treat all people with respect, dignity,  and love.

That’s the vision of God’s expansive promise. That’s the vision of God’s will being done here on earth as it is in heaven. But we must ask ourselves—is this happening? IF not, how can it happen? Love.  That’s the answer.  Love expands.  Love is how Jesus reigns forever.  When we love, that is how there will be no end to the House of Jesus.  Jesus’ birth reminds us that God’s love is this expansive promise made to us.  Love is for us.  Love is with us.  Love expands as we give it away.

Peter Marty, publisher of the Christian Century tells a story of the morning in December 1992, when he noticed a small gift beside baby Jesus in the outdoor crèche.  The handwritten note taped to the wrapping paper read, “Happy Brithday, Jesus.”  Birthday was misspelled.

Curiosity got the better of him, and he opened the gift.  Underneath the red wrapping paper was an old Shake ‘n Bake pork seasoning box.  Inside the box was 33 cents and a piece of notebook paper with the words, Dear Jesus, Happy Birthday.  Here’s some small change for you to feed someone who is hungry.  I give myself to be kind to others as you were kind to other people on earth.  Love, Maria.

Peter Marty knew right away who Maria was.  She was a tender soul who lived in the house on campus that the church owned for persons living with chromic mental illness.  Even though plagued with a severe case of paranoid schizophrenia, she seemed to know that love was the only thing that she had to give away, and she knew love comes from God (Marty, Peter, www.christiancentury.org/article/publisher/birthday-present-manger-scene, retrieved December 20, 2017).

For God is love. And somehow, love is what expands when we give it away.  When we treat all people with love, dignity, and respect. When we practice what God values...peace, love,  justice, kindness, and mercy toward all.  It is God’s expansive promise.  That is the reason we say “Alleluia!”  Jesus brings in the realm of God’s love.  And of his house, of his realm, there will be no end.  We say “Alleluia!” Christ is born!  Praise be to God!  Amen.