Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:26-38, Divine Providence 96:5 (see below)
See also on Youtube at: youtu.be/gS2skIJHw1Y
Today we visit with King David, just after he has defeated the Philistines, brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and settled into his new reign as king. David finally receives a break from war, and turns his mind to how he can glorify the Lord. He decides that it is time to build a temple for God, for the ark still remains in the tabernacle as it always has, essentially in a tent.
David clearly has good intentions. He has been faithful, he has battled hard for the Lord, and surely now the time would be right to erect a monument to God, to place his people’s most cherished possession within a building that reflects its value in earthly terms.
But the Lord sends a message to David via the prophet Nathan, and asks: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? There is much contained within this one sentence of gentle chiding. God draws David away from any grandiose plans he might have had, and reminds him that God has never asked for a grand temple. God has been present through every step of the Israelite’s journeys and will continue with them. That has never been in question. God instead turns the question to David’s purpose and inclination.
Though David has a rest from battle now, throughout the rest of the book of 2 Samuel, he will be plagued with challenges, many of his own making. Part of what makes David such a relatable and beloved character is that he is both flawed and faithful; he is powerfully human. And perhaps this explains the Lord’s response. David will have plenty to contend with in the coming years. Very soon he will greatly displease the Lord by committing adultery with Bathsheba, and deliberately putting her husband in harms way. The Lord knew that David had some very different building he needed to do. David had faith already; what he needed to do was build his own ability to live according to that faith.
Swedenborg writes that a building houses in the word can metaphorically relate to the building of our own willingness and intentionality.(1) David had brought much glory to the Lord already in battle, had brought together the tribes of Israel and made them into a powerful nation. He knew what God had done for him and his people, he knew the truth of God’s power and steadfastness, and he believed in it deeply. But he had not integrated that belief with his actions in a personal way.
In the Word the good that exists with a person is compared to 'a house', and for that reason one who is governed by good is called 'the House of God’.(2)
David wanted to build a literal house for God, which was a fine idea, but he had forgotten about building a house for God out of his life. Even as he ruled, he would often govern by what was best for him, rather than being governed by what was best for others.
And this why it would be David’s son, King Solomon, who would build the temple. David had established himself as a king through war, whereas the name Solomon is derived from the Hebrew word for “peace.” An adversarial mindset cannot build a house in which God can be worshiped. David even delivered Solomon detailed plans for the temple. But goodness and peace and love must build the temple. For love followed-through-on is what builds the house, the structure, the habits, the perspectives, in which God is truly worshipped, not just our ideas about what is good. We build the temple, the temple of our lives, day by day, when we are able to focus on embodying love to those around us, leaving the world just a little better than we found it; this is how our selfhood becomes a house in which God is glorified.
It is tempting to default to a sense that David was not “good enough.” But that is not what it is about. It is not about earning our salvation, brick by brick. It is about recognizing that we are progressively transformed by the steps we take on each of our journeys. When God asked: “Are you the one who would build me a house to live in?” it is not meant to be framed as a rhetorical measurement, but rather as a reflection; did David understand what building God a house would mean? Fr. Richard Rohr writes:
We all tend to aim for the goal instead of the journey itself, but spiritually speaking, how we get there is where we arrive. The journey determines the final destination. If we manipulate our way, we end up with a manipulated, self-made god. If we allow ourselves to be drawn and chosen by love, we might just end up with the real God.(3)
And this why the temple was not important to God, why God never asked for it to be built. To God, the covenant was the thing that was important, and the covenant was just as active and relevant in a tent as in a temple. God was interested in how faithfulness to the covenant might lead each person might bring glory to God in their own hearts, minds and lives.
This will be brought into an even fuller representation by Mary, betrothed to a descendent of David himself, many hundreds of years later, when her body would actually build a space for God to dwell inside. By this time the temple David had proposed had long been built, and was the center of Jewish life in Jerusalem. Surely the Lord must have been content with that grandest of buildings? But no, this is the point, of course. It is God's intent to dwell with us, personally, in the fullest of possible ways. The Lord does automatically dwell with us, inherently, within our will and our intellect, and the freedom that exists there.(4) This is how we are all images and likeness of the Lord. But God is not content to dwell like a boarder in the guest room, but wishes to dwell as someone who shares the life of the household. The fullness of God’s dwelling with us, the efficacy of it, the realness of it, depends on our response. When God reaches out, what do we do?
This time, Mary’s answer to the question Are you the one to build me a house to live in? was a resounding yes! Her song that follows our reading for today, known as The Magnificat, makes clear that she understood what the coming of the Lord would mean, in her own life, and in the life of the whole world. She said: I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled. None of us will be called to build an actual temple, or to gestate the incarnation of God, but we are called a mystical embodiment of God’s love nonetheless. We all place a plank in our own house of God every time we try to bring some goodness into the world. This is the kind of worship that God cherishes.
God’s question to David really is the most perfect of Advent questions: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? May we receive the question as David, hearing any gentle chiding that we might need to hear, any adjustments to our perspective that need to me made, any follow-through to which we need to commit, any hypocrisy we need to abandon, any stubbornness we need to let go of, any indifference we need to relinquish.
And may we hear also the question as Mary, as one who would say yes, yes to opening our minds wide for the coming of the Lord, yes to how that will stretch and grow our hearts, yes to building a dwelling place for God deep within us, a home where our very life is worship, a house where every moment is praise. Amen.