Jesus. Immanuel. Immanuel. Jesus.
You cannot speak of one without invoking the other.
Jesus equals Immanuel. Immanuel equals God with us. Thus, Jesus equals God with Us. Your middle school algebra teacher was correct: A=B, and B=C, therefore A=C.
Indeed, the math adds up: Amid profound brokenness and paralyzing fear, you can count on God’s protection, because Jesus is Immanuel – God with Us. Ever and always, Jesus looks straight into your mind, heart, and soul with his two good eyes, and he does so not only when you can smile back but most certainly also when your own eyes are full of tears.
Jesus, Immanuel, “God with you,” even when you are so angry with the Lord that you refuse to meet his glance. But even when you feel like you can’t look at him, he never looks away from you. Thanks be to God!
That’s where we left the Word of the Lord last Sunday. And our annual Advent pilgrimage toward Bethlehem continues this morning with a second, equally breathtaking name for Jesus: “Son of God.” To sense the powerful wallop that the name “Son of God” is packing, we first turn to the Old Testament’s Samuel and a passage that’s been called the mother of all predictions foretelling the coming of God’s Christ.
God in heaven, of course, is the main actor in the story of salvation, and the supporting cast of this chapter includes a mighty king – David, the writer of psalms, and a humble prophet, Nathan, the interpreter of heaven’s message. And the story finds it climax in a sacred covenant, a holy agreement, that God establishes with David.
The Lord makes his binding promise in what for David are the best of times, when the grace of great things from God doesn’t seem necessary. The everlasting promise will be fulfilled in the worst of times, when such heavenly provision of second chances doesn’t seem possible. And it all hinges on the idea of “house.”
King David is sitting fat and sassy, safely and successfully ensconced in his own house, a palace of cedar. After years of brawls and fisticuffs with enemies both foreign and domestic, David finally enjoys some peace and quiet: His tired, aching feet propped upon a footstool, a glass of fine red wine in one hand, and a good cigar in the other.
But David is neither lazy nor unthankful.
He knows that his military and political successes come from the Lord, and David desires not to be shy in expressing his gratitude – maybe even somehow, someway repaying the favor and covering the debt of his faithful, heavenly King. It just seems like the right thing to do: “God’s done so much for me, now I’m going to do something for God.”
Nathan somehow lays eyes upon David’s architectural and structural plans, and wanting to please the king, and assuming that the king’s plans will succeed, (because “the Lord is with you”), Nathan signs off on the building project: “Whatever David has in mind, it’s all good!” “Go ahead, and do it, man.” How can building a house for God be a bad idea? What could possibly go wrong?
Well, here’s what: As it turns out, the Lord himself is less than thrilled with David’s largesse. As Jenny Stegen shares our Old Testament lesson, trust that the Holy Spirit will help you hear the Word of the Lord that satisfies your Advent hunger and quenches your pilgrim thirst.
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan,
“See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.” But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:
Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”
Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.
And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:1-16)
What could possibly go wrong? Well, God might revoke the permit and kibosh the whole idea!
Which is precisely what God does!
Dissatisfied with simply pulling the plug on the project, God further terminates the builder!
After years of depending completely on God, for anything and everything, David’s gotten a big head; he’s thinking a little too highly of himself. From his lofty perch, David conjures up a role reversal. Whereas God took such good care of David, David will now take such good care of God – the Lord God of Heaven and Earth!
As you ought to expect, God wants absolutely nothing from David, who receives a stern dressing-down in a harsh reminder that God is the Maker of kings, and that David remains God’s lowly servant. Lest you forget, let me be crystal clear:
I am your Savior and Lord, always have been, always will be. Never, ever think, or speak, or act, as though you can reverse reality, turn the tables, and start taking care of me.
Laid out carefully and precisely on God’s drawing board are blueprints for a house built not with cedar but with ancestry – lineage, heritage; a dynasty; a familial house of rule and reign, crown and scepter, guaranteed to stretch like elastic cord far beyond the seams of David’s earthly life and reign.
Just as King Charles III and his mother before him, Queen Elizabeth II, belong to the royal house of Windsor, God’s Messiah – God’s Savior, God’s Christ; Immanuel, God with Us – will belong to the royal house of David.
Even as God scores a double reversal and pins David to the mat when anxiety and hubris made him think that he could, should, and would do something for God, God will reverse the reversal of sin and brokenness that has overtaken the world, calming fear and shining light into our darkness, where, like David, we equate ourselves with the divine: Greatest of All Time! Ironically, living in a time when barely a scant few are still longing and searching for redemption.
Then, it happens!
The angel Gabriel visits a newly minted, meek and mild teen-ager named Mary. His Advent promise to her is the exact promise made to David generations ago. You are listening to and looking at a scene from Luke chapter 1.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Mary had the little lamb.
Mary had the little Lamb, who lived before his birth;
Self-existent Son of God, from heaven he came to earth.
Mary had the little Lamb; see him in yonder stall —
Virgin-born Son of God, to save man from the Fall.
Mary had the little Lamb, obedient Son of God;
Everywhere the Father led, his feet were sure to trod.
Mary had the little Lamb, crucified on the tree;
The rejected Son of God, he died to set us free.
Mary had the little Lamb — men placed him in the grave,
Thinking they were done with him; but to death he was no slave!
Mary had the little Lamb, ascended now is he;
All work on Earth is ended, our Advocate to be.
Mary had the little Lamb — mystery to behold!
From the Lamb of Calvary, a Lion will unfold!
And when his star rises again, of this be very sure:
It won’t be lamb-like silence, but rather a lion’s roar.
And quite the loud roar it was! The Son of God’s last cry from the Cross? “It is finished!”
Finished – as in something’s ready, completed. Jesus declares his saving work “finished” on the cross, and he means that it is completed, whole, ready to go. But in the U.K., to a Briton “finished” conveys depletion – all gone, and that’s sometimes how you and I act: As though Jesus didn’t really wrap it all up. He did a lot, though, taking the work as far as he could before getting whacked by the Romans. And then he was “finished,” depleted, and now it’s our turn to refill the tank and top off the gas.
Don’t be so fast, friends. Make haste slowly! Deliberately! Carefully! Prayerfully!
Sometimes a good book or heartwarming movie stages a scene featuring a son who’s long been estranged from his father, and the son is told that his dad has died. Which cues an actor’s line always something to the effect of, “Did Papa mention me before he died? Did Daddy say my name? Did he remember me?”
Sandwiched thick between the lines of such questions is the frantic, desperate hope that the words of a dead man, made on his deathbed, just might retroactively re-make the past, mercifully cork the throbbing hemorrhage of emotion, finally suture up the deep wounds of stabbing pain and grave trauma.
Having become one of us – the Son of God also becoming the Son of Man, Jesus knows full well that every last one of us has, at times – in days and nights of grief and loss – groped for the feeble words of someone dead, in hopes of re-visioning the past to be rosier than it really was.
Thus, our present is ever running – crazy busy; go, go go, trying desperately to hit on the winning formula that’ll make the present better by healing the past, forever running a brutal, grueling marathon toward a blurry finish line far up ahead, where our grit and stamina will miraculously make things better by healing the past. Extending life to give ourselves more time might just be the real American pastime.
According to the brilliant women and men who study and write about such things, breakthroughs in genetic medicine might let folks in the near-future live vibrant lives well until they are 150. Maybe such prospects sound good to all those old folks who look back on the regrets of their past and conclude, “There just wasn’t enough time. If only I had a little more time, I could fix this or that, reconcile with him or her.”
But in the end, it doesn’t come down to a matter of time.
People will always yearn for five minutes more, and nothing will change or be transformed. We need something more, something else, to fix what’s broken. We need Jesus. We need his Cross. Which is why we need Advent’s preparation and the Yuletide’s assurance – the courage of Christmas, without which there’d be no Good Friday, no opportunity to join Jesus on that Cross, and to get over ourselves and let go of who once were. All so the Lord can raise us up again. And he will – standing shoulder to shoulder in lockstep with God and the Holy Spirit!
Don’t let yourself become mired in muck, but keep right on moving to your final destination in Jesus Christ. Gaze not upon the manger, and see the Cross, and timidly wonder if Jesus remembers you. “Did Jesus mention me? Did Jesus say my name?”
Yes, absolutely! He did! And he said you could stop running. “It is finished.”
Let there be no doubt: The dazzling display of Advent heralds the incredible joy and amazing grace of Christmas, the Son of God appearing among us to destroy the works of the devil, and to wash away, forever, the stain of sin, at long last restoring all people and things to the ways Father, Son, and Spirit meant them to be in their creation.
That great day of new Advent is coming. No one knows when, but it’s getting ever nearer. It’ll probably be here before you know it, when your world has been turned upside down, and you can’t win for losing, and God’s promises seem to ring hallow. That’s precisely when the Lord God of Heaven and Earth will reverse our course in the return the Son to restore peace on earth and goodwill to all.
Glory to the newborn King. Amen, and amen!
Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message during worship on Sunday, November 20, 2022, the second Sunday of Advent at First Presbyterian Church. Scholarship, commentary, and reflection by Bruce C. Birch, Nick Cady, Richard Lischer, and Stan Mast inform the message. The author of Mary Had the Little Lamb is unknown.