It’s almost Christmas. We hit critical mass somewhere around this last week before the day itself. We run on overload or we find a little bit of magic, a little miracle working to make it all come out the way we hope and pray that it will. Those seem to be our choices in this season, don’t they? Overwhelmed or by the skin of our teeth.
Why? Because it is Christmas. That’s the answer we give and we get when we ask, which doesn’t really help. It’s almost the same as saying, “because I said so!”
Why do we do it? Well, because company is coming, and we want the house to look nice. Now, that might sound shallow, but it is what motivates us. Appearances. It’s not supposed to sound shallow, because there is something important going on there. In the desire to present a welcoming home, a home of joy and light, full of the sights and sounds and smells of the season, there is something profound being said about the nature of Christmas itself.
Appearances. How would it look if someone showed up before you got everything spruced up? How would it look if you were found with the boxes from the attic not put away, and the decorations strewn across the floor, and the kitchen a mess because the kids had to “help” with the baking, and the cat knocking the ornaments off the tree with abandon, and the tempers running short, and the strain beginning to show, and “if you push replay on ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ one more time I’m not going to be responsible for my actions!” How would it look?
That was essentially the question that David asks in second Samuel. He was relaxing in his Lazy-Boy throne, watching the Philistines losing to the Amalekites in the fourth quarter, and he happens to glance out the window into the backyard and sees what God has been living in since he moved back from wherever it was that he got stolen to; and he thought, “How does this look? Here I am living in my brand new house, with the full finished basement, full baths on every floor, walk-in closets and three-car garage, and there’s God living in a pop-up trailer in my backyard. There’s something not right here.” Or maybe it was his grumpy wife Michael, who told him she didn’t like the look of God’s camper next to her rose bushes, and ever since God strung those lights up on the canopy it is starting to look like a trailer park out there.
How does it look to have me in here and God out there? Not good, was his conclusion. So, David says, well, we just gotta build God a house. And Nathan, who runs messages back and forth from the camper in the back into the palace, says, “Good idea!”
At least until he trundles out to the backyard and has a word with God. And God says no, says he’s kinda partial to the pop-up camper. He likes being able to go where the people are; he likes to be on the move; he doesn’t want to be tied down with the maintenance worries that home ownership brings. He prefers to be able to run out in front to head off the bad guys at the pass. And who’s the one in the home building business anyway? Wasn’t it I who led you home to the Promised Land? Wasn’t it I who made you safe enough to build your tri-level ranch style palace anyway? I’m the one in the home-establishing business, not you. In fact, you might say, that is my main motivating factor in all this chosen people stuff in the first place, to make a home, a home for you and my people and through you to make a home for the whole world.
God says, “Come home.” That’s the offer God makes to David. “Come home, home to me, home to your true self, home to your true family.” That’s what God is really talking about, home. David is talking about building a house, and God wants to talk about finding a home. God built in all of us this desire for home. And maybe at Christmas, this desire for home is a little bit stronger, or a little bit closer to the surface. And sometimes we have to move heaven and earth to get there. And it upsets our routines, and we will wonder on occasion whether it is worth it, and yet we go, or they come, or we find a new place.
God told David that David wasn’t going to build God a home, and then it said in the verses we skipped over, that David’s son was going to do it. Then later, David and everyone thought that God was talking about Solomon, because Solomon did indeed build the temple as a home for God. At least that’s what everyone thought God meant.
Everyone, but Luke that is. Luke reminds us that God had different ideas than the rest of us did. Solomon’s temple was quite a structure, and God apparently liked it well enough. Well enough to visit, but it was never really God’s home, or so it seems. For one thing it was always called Solomon’s temple.
No, God had a different son in mind, when he said, “Your son will build my home.” God was thinking of the one that Gabriel would call, “the Son of the Most High,” the one that would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there would be no end.” That’s the son who would build God’s home. No one quite got that. David didn’t really understand what God meant. Solomon didn’t really understand either, but he got the construction crew out anyway. No one knew what God really meant— no one, but Mary.
But then the indications are that Mary didn’t really understand either. How could she? Just imagine, this young, unmarried, soon-to-be married girl, gets a message from God. And the message is, God’s coming home. Taking up residence. In her. Excuse me?
This nothing special, backwoods, teenager was going be God’s home for a few months. And talk about your troubling house guests! Feet on the furniture are nothing compared to this. Those who are mothers, who have experienced the joy of pregnancy and birth know better than the rest of us the hard realities of this little event. We are here a few days before Christmas talking about Mary finding out she’s going to be pregnant, and then Wednesday night, she gives birth. Pretty amazing, really. But not real. She carried this load just like everyone else; she hurt and she sweated and she paced and she groaned and she struggled and she wondered and she worried and she bled and she gave birth in a barn because no one was willing to give her a bed. “Greetings favored one, the Lord is with you.” The Lord has a different idea of favoritism than we do. The Lord has a different idea of blessing than we do. The Lord has a different idea of home than we do.
“Come home,” says the Lord to us at Christmas time. “Come home.” David wanted to build a house for God on the tallest hill in Jerusalem, where God could be removed and distant and overlook all the people who would have to go out of their way to give obedience to God. But God wanted to build his home a little closer to the deep realities of living in this world so that we would be surprised by God where we live. God wanted to build his home where we sweat and labor, where we work and play, where we laugh and cry, where our hearts are lifted up and often broken and sometimes healed.
David wanted God’s home on a mountain, but God wanted his home in the womb of a virgin, in the feed box behind an inn in the little town of Bethlehem. God wanted his home in the backwoods region of Galilee, on the roads of the countryside, in the grassy place where five thousand sat and ate their fill. God wanted his home in the birthing units and wedding celebrations and the dinner parties. God wanted his home in the tear-filled bedrooms and sick beds and the graveyards of his children. God wanted his home in the court rooms and prison cells and then on the streets of sorrow of Jerusalem and the dark hill called Calvary.
God wants his home in your home, in the living rooms and kitchens and playrooms and bedrooms of your life. God calls to us at Christmas and says, “Greetings, favored ones! I’m coming home, coming home for Christmas. Is there room for me in your crowded, busy lives? Is there room for me?” And like any baby born in our midst, he says, “I won’t take up much room, just all that you have. Is there room for me? I’m coming home.” And off to the side, almost out of our vision, an angel waits for our answer.