Monday, December 21, 2020

What God Imagines for You

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the final Sunday before the celebration of Jesus' birth at Christmas. Below is the video of online worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Below that is the text of the message presented during the service. I pray that God uses this service and the message to His glory. Have a wonderful Christmas!

Imagination, I’m sure, is one of those things that show that human beings, unlike all the other creatures God created, were made in the image of God.

Because of our common condition of original sin, that image is distorted, like the image of ourselves we see on the surface of a pond when we skip a stone across it is distorted.

But imagination is central to who we are as human beings.

Scientists notice that the COVID-19 virus is another SARS virus and imagine how to go about creating a COVID vaccine.

A poet reads a passage from the Psalms and imagines a new sonnet, applying the truth of the psalm to life today.

A visual artist sees an advertisement for soup and creates a piece of pop art.

A self-starter imagines a new business and creates a product millions of people use.

But, again because of the distortion of original sin, the things we imagine aren’t always innocent, altruistic, or godly. Not even the good things we imagine are left entirely untinged by our desire to be our own gods, to make names for ourselves. In Genesis, we’re told that God said in His heart, “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood…” (Genesis 8:21) When we’re honest, we know that’s true.

Our first lesson for this Fourth Sunday in Advent begins with imaginings rooted in the seemingly good intentions of Israel’s greatest king, David. David imagines ordering the construction of a permanent house for the tabernacle, where God lived among His people in a simple tent. David wants to build God a place as impressive and imposing as his own palace. The prophet Nathan is impressed with David’s desire and tells the king: “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” (2 Samuels 7:3)

There’s little doubt that the Lord was with David. God had made David, the runt of his family, a conquering king. But now that things were peaceful in Israel, David may have had more in mind than honoring God through the construction of a place to house God’s presence among His people. One commentator notes, “Temple building was an activity often undertaken by ancient Near Eastern kings to legitimize their rule and to ensure favor from their gods.”

Maybe that’s why God came in a dream to Nathan the prophet that night and said that David was not to build a temple. God pointed out that, “I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.” (2 Samuel 7:6)

And then, in a play on words, God says that not only should David not build a house for Him, but that instead, God is going to build a house for David. The Hebrew word used for house here can also mean dynasty, like the House of Windsor, the family lineage of the kings, queens, and royalty in the United Kingdom. Nathan is to tell David, “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you…” (2 Samuel 7:11)

The point is that no matter how great we think our imaginings may be, God’s are greater.

The apostle Paul writes that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

That was certainly true of David’s desire to build a house for God. The House of David would rule on the throne of Israel for another four-hundred years! But more than that, God honored David’s desire to honor God, however, tinged by human sin David’s desire might have been: God tells David in 2 Samuel 7:16: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”

What a passage!

David’s House, the succession of human kings raised in the house of David would last forever, God is saying.

The kingdom over which David reigned, God’s kingdom, God’s people, would be established forever.

This verse contains the promise of a King Who is both true God and true man, Who would come on the first Christmas, then die for the sins of all people and rise from the dead, tearing open the walls to eternity, to make not just Israel, but all people who repent and believe in Him, eternally right with God.

This was far more than David asked or imagined. David wanted to build God an earthly home, like his own. It was the greatest thing he could imagine.

He’s not alone. Most of us spend much of our working lives saving the money to buy the perfect home.

But God desires to give all who dare to believe in David’s descendant, the Son of God Jesus, raised in the household of David’s descendants, Mary and Joseph, an eternal home.

“My Father’s house has many rooms,” Jesus told the first disciples, “if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)

Earthly homes, even royal dynasties, don’t last forever. My father told me the other day that the house that I lived in for much of the first eight years of my life has been torn down. That happens to even the best of homes on earth. Our eternal home with the God we know in Jesus will never be destroyed!

What God imagines for us is infinitely and eternally better than anything of which we can conceive.

At one of my former parishes, I got excited after a conversation with a parishioner who told me, “There’s no reason why this congregation shouldn’t have 500 people in worship each Sunday.” Without any prayerful reflection, I announced in a sermon the next week that we should aim for the goal of having 500 worshipers each Sunday by the end of the following year. I hyped the goal, prayed for it, pushed it. Guess what? We did see an increase in worship attendance the next about 90. While I imagined one thing, God was imagining another: People’s lives being changed through the faithful proclamation of the Gospel and through the faithful administration of the Sacraments--Holy Baptism and Holy Communion--through which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains saving faith in Jesus within us. God had decided that in that particular church at that particular time, we didn’t need 500 people in worship on Sunday mornings to fulfill that calling.

There is usually an enormous gap between our desires for God and God’s desires for us. We think that we can serve God best if we’re successful, comfortable, able to give to God and others out of superabundance. We also think that somehow, we have to protect God against an unholy world, as though God needed our shelter and our protection. That’s the way religious people think. This is how David and Nathan seemed to be thinking when David first shared his desire to build a house for God.

But, in fact, we don’t need to be successful or comfortable or living with financial abundance to know God’s blessings. These things can impede faith, becoming snares that tempt us into thinking that the blessed life consists of how much ease and how many toys we acquire before our earthly lives end. They can steer us away from faith in Christ alone for justification or joy.

The truth is that before our common enemies of sin and death, we don’t need to shelter or protect God...we need to take refuge in the shelter and protection of the God we meet in Jesus. This is what God promised David in today’s lesson. It’s what He promises to us in Jesus: protection from the power of sin and its result, death, the assurance that all who call on Jesus’ name will live under His protection forever!

Jesus once lamented over the people of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Luke 13:34) David imagined all that he would do for God. God told him to let go of such thoughts and instead trust in all that God was going to do for him...and for us.

In this strangest of all Advent and Christmas seasons, God invites us to not take comfort in what we can do or in our imaginings of how things ought to be, but to take comfort only in what God has already done for us in Christ and all that He is going to do for those who trust in His Son Jesus for all the eternal good God has in mind for us. Could there be a better gift than this at Christmas or any other time? Amen

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