ADVENT 4, B – December 21, 2014

 SCRIPTURES – Psalm 19; 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

 

“The Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. . .  And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before Me.” 2 Sam. 7:11, 16

 

There’s a saying that’s both heard and seen fairly frequently this time of year. You may have said it yourself. The saying is: “Keep Christ in Christmas.” This saying expresses an important sentiment in our increasingly secular and materialistic culture. We will soon be focusing again upon and celebrating God’s gift to us of His Son for our salvation. Christ’s coming is what Christmas is all about, and there is nothing more important. Don’t let anything else, then, overshadow this! “Keep Christ in Christmas.”

 

I did some research on this phrase, where it came from, and when, and what I found really surprised me. It seems that the saying is of Middle-Eastern origin, and it goes much farther back than I would ever have guessed. In fact, “Keep Christ in Christmas” actually pre-dates Christ! I realized this when I came across this saying, which you will undoubtedly recognize as its source: “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” King David’s desire to build a temple for God was taken by a shrewd press secretary in his court, simplified to, “Keep Yahweh in Jerusalem,” and was then was written on walls and signs throughout Israel. Some people even wrote it on the backsides of their donkeys and camels! It took some time, but support grew, and eventually a temple was indeed built.

 

God’s response to David’s pious desire sounds rather odd: “Would you build me a house to dwell in?... I took you from the pasture [and I made you] prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name… And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them... And I will give you rest from all your enemies.” It sounds as if God is saying to David, “Thanks, but I don’t need your help. I’m doing quite well on my own!”

 

Is this what God is saying to us today, and what we need to keep in mind during these last few days we have to prepare for our own Christmas celebrations: that God doesn’t need our help? Well, no. David’s desire to build a permanent temple for God, a place where His holy Name would be proclaimed and His people be able to gather and be blessed in and by His presence, was certainly a good desire. So is your desire that God be honored at Christmas for giving to us His Son. “Keep Christ in Christmas” is a good desire, and every effort to do so is pleasing to God. May we strive to do so!

 

To do so, may we above all remember, confess, and rejoice in a truth that is captured very well in another saying, in the words Mary spoke to the angel Gabriel: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” With these words Mary captures the essence of what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is a servant who is dependent upon God for everything, who receives from God everything, and who can only offer to God what God has first given. We take credit for nothing, but thank and praise God for everything.

 

That our salvation is totally God’s work is made very clear this day. We can take no credit for the coming of Jesus to us; not even in a relational sense.

  • You know, like you take pride in the accomplishments of an American athlete in the Olympics because you are an American.

    The fact that God became flesh and was born among us is not something that we can take any credit for; Luke’s Gospel makes this very clear. Jesus’ conception was a miracle, as the power of the Holy Spirit, God Most High, overshadowed Mary and caused her to conceive in her womb, even though she was a virgin. The miracle of His unique conception declares our own conceptions and our own selves to be utterly unworthy of God. Why? Our flesh is so corrupted by sin that we are sinful by nature, sinners even when growing and developing within the womb. We rightly confess, then, that we are poor, miserable sinners; in a miserable state because our very flesh is by nature sinful and unclean, and so we can never be good or do anything good for God unless He first takes us by grace and makes us anew, as He did with Mary: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!... you have found favor with God.” Mary then responded, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord;” and this servant hood was itself the Lord’s doing, for you cannot be a servant, especially of a great and exalted master, if he does not desire your service. Just as God told David that every good thing in his life was God’s work – I took you from the pasture… I made you prince… I have been with you wherever you went… I have cut off all your enemies… I will make for you a great name” – so your salvation is totally God’s work. God sent His Son into the womb for you; God brought Him forth for you; Jesus lived a life of obedience to all of God’s commandments for you; He took your sins upon Himself and offered His life for you; He rose from the dead for you; He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord” is all that we can say; but, what a glorious thing to say! The greatest Master of all, the eternal Lord of all creation has taken us poor sinners and exalted us to be His servants in His eternal kingdom! Blessed forever are we!

     

    And, since we are God’s servants, our work is also blessed. This, too, is what we are confessing when we confess with Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.” God has given us great works to do; great, not because of the nature of our works, but because He who commands them is great.

  • Conception and birth, although wonderful things, are also very normal and ordinary. But, as servants of the Most High, our marriages, and our conceiving and raising of children, are exalted works, works of God and works for God.

  • Being a price or ruler, as was David, is not only ordinary; it is often rather lowly and despised because of the sinful abuse of their position by many. What do you think of the members of Congress? But, God made David a ruler and did great things through him. Serving in government, then, is also God’s work, done by Him through you for the good of others.

  • Being a soldier who fights and even kills may seem rather ungodly; but God tells David that He was the one who cut off David’s enemies. God Himself is a soldier! As His servants, then, even such service is godly.

    We Christians take no credit for the things we do, even the best of them. With Mary we simply confess: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.” But, as we give all credit to God He exalts the importance and lasting value of our works, even the most humble of them.

     

    How do you keep Christ in Christmas? Gladly confess with Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.” Rejoice in the honor of being chosen to be servants of the Most High God. He will keep Christ in Christmas for you, for He will keep you in Him who was conceived and born for your eternal salvation!