The Rector's sermon preached on December 24, 2017          


2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 15; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38


Today we hear in the second book of Samuel that David, through the prophet Nathan, wants to build God a house.  Imagine:  building a house for God.  What audacity David had!  Did David really think for a moment that the Most High God—creator of the heavens and the earth, maker and keeper of the covenant, inspirer of the prophets—would be willing to accept confinement within four walls of mortar and stone?  David learns eventually that his idea isn’t part of God’s plan…at least not yet.  God’s plan for a dwelling-place turns out to be stranger and more remarkable than anything David could have imagined.


The Lord’s response to David suggestion is:  “I will build you a house,” which wasn’t a building, but descendants of the king which is the place where God would dwell.   The Lord rejects the option of a temple built of wood and stone; he chooses instead a temple of flesh and blood.  It seems a remarkable choice to us, because we know how finite human flesh is.


If you visit any archaeological site, you might find pottery, pieces of furniture, tools…but there will be no trace of humankind.  Historical sites have plaques with information relating to what happened on that spot…but there will be no trace of human flesh.  Thousands of years of history have a way of erasing every hint of the material that makes up the human body.  Stones dug from the ground and carved with names and dates endure, but human flesh is fragile and passes away.  Perhaps that’s why David wanted to do away with the tent pegs, the canvas and the rope that was then the tabernacle—the house of God—and construct a massive house of stone!   If God is eternal, then surely it is fitting that the houses we fashion for the Almighty must share some of the same attributes!


When you consider all this, it starts to become clear what a scandal the doctrine we call the Incarnation was to some believers.  The gospel writer John puts it in a few simple words, and today it is etched in our Creed: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us ... full of grace and truth.”  This truth was so hard to comprehend that it took hundreds of years before even the leaders of the church came into agreement and made it a doctrine of our faith.  What possible business does the eternal Word — the Logos of God — have, becoming human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ?  And if it were true, how could it happen the way it did?  Of all people for God to choose to become the bearer of this child:  a mere teenaged girl, betrothed to a hardworking craftsman!  How could this be?


Not only that, but there’s the literal scandal that erupts, as soon as Mary comes back to her people with this wild tale of a visitation by an angel and her commissioning by the Holy Spirit to bear the child of God!  When news of Mary’s pregnancy reaches Joseph, he very nearly breaks off the engagement.  And to make sure that doesn’t happen, God has to send an angel to speak to Joseph in a dream, to convince this very righteous man that, for once, doing the righteous thing according to the law may not be the most loving thing.    In the fullness of time, God was poised to take on finite, human flesh!!!



Over the years scientists have fashioned certain things that will last forever:  anodized aluminum, for one; certain plastics, and disposable diapers last almost forever.  But God seems to have very different priorities. Throughout history, when God sent messages to his children, he didn’t speak in anodized aluminum.  He spoke through human-fleshed prophets.  And eventually God’s house—the Temple— was built by David’s son Solomon, but the day came when it too was destroyed.  And in God’s timing, when the promise was to be fulfilled, he did use a vessel that would last forever.  He sent His Son in the perishable stuff of human flesh.


The fulfillment of that promise was first heralded by an angel who appeared to that teenaged girl and said to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and, the child to be born will be holy....”   Years later, the author of the letter to the Hebrews would describe this miracle in these theological terms:  “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”


It’s a strange and beautiful thing God has done, sending the message of salvation to us absorbed in human flesh like ours! So many things could have gone wrong with this plan!  Eventually, of course, something did, as cruel and evil men took the human body of Jesus, beat it and hung it on a cross to die.  And there, it seemed to his followers for a few brief days, the message itself had failed.  Yet, as we all know, on the third day Jesus rose again, and God’s living Word continues to speak.


Seeking to describe in poetic terms the wonder of the Incarnation, the hymn writer Charles Wesley came up with these words. They’re part of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”:


Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased in flesh with us to dwell,

Jesus, our Emmanuel.


 “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see....” “Godhead” is, of course, an old expression for the Trinity.  But a veil?  A veil is that filmy substance we can see through only with difficulty, as in a bridal veil.  When people looked to Jesus in his own time, all too many of them failed to discern the message sent from God. They saw as if through a veil…only a human being, like any other.  But those of us who have heard the Good News see to some extent beyond the veil, understanding the simple declaration that he is Lord of all and the Savior of each one of us.


David had the audacity to offer to build a house of wood and mortar for His God.  What a wonderful idea!  Yet, God chose to forgo that plan, to become flesh and blood like you and me, through the human flesh of a young woman, not unlike us.  How great is our God that he would choose a one like you and me to fulfill his promise of love and salvation!  And Mary said:  “Be it done unto me according to your word!”  



Actions: E-mail | Permalink |