“The Merger of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’”
December 24, 2017
(4th Sunday of Advent)
By John Partridge*
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 Romans 16:25-27 Luke 1:26-38
How many of you watch football?
For many people in this area, football is important. In Massillon, for some people it rises to the level of religion or fanaticism, or both. So can you imagine what football season is like in a home where a graduate of Washington High School in Massillon is married to an alumnus of McKinley? We know that these things must happen. You can buy flags for your yard that are half Ohio State and half Michigan with the words “A house divided” appearing at the bottom. But somehow, at least apart from football season, these folks have found common ground and a way to live, and love, together.
Likewise, this is one of the things that makes the present day European Union all the more amazing. It wasn’t that long ago that my German grandfather fought in the trenches against the French and, historically, parts of Europe have been at war with one another almost continuously from 500 BC and intermittently at least as far back as 5000 BC. To have arrived at a place where 27 or 28 of these nations not only get along, but have formed a common government that protects and serves their common interests is nothing short of amazing.
But what happens at Christmas is bigger by far.
We begin this morning in 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, where King David decides that he should build a temple for the God of Israel but discovers that God has entirely different plans.
7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”
4 But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:
5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 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. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you
6 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”
As King David relaxes in his new palace, he realizes how much God has blessed him and decides that God ought to have a house as nice, or nicer, than his own. The prophet Nathan knows that God loves David and has supported David since he was a boy watching his father’s sheep but God has other plans. God tells Nathan that David is not to build him a house and in fact, God insists that he never asked for house. Instead, God intends to make David’s name even more well-known and build a nation where the people of Israel can live forever without being disturbed, and be protected from their enemies. Rather than demand a house or a temple for himself, God intends to build David a house and a nation by promising that David’s family will rule over Israel forever.
But it didn’t take long before it appeared that God had forgotten his promise to David. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel that were ruled by David rejected his grandson Rehoboam and the kingdom was divided. The ten tribes who splinter off become the nation of Israel and the two that remain loyal to David’s family becomes the nation of Judah. But even that doesn’t last very long. Twelve or fifteen generations later (about 300 years), both Israel and Judah are conquered by Babylon and carried off into captivity where the ten tribes of Israel are lost to history forever. The two tribes of Judah, those loyal to the family line of King David, eventually return and reestablish the nation of Israel, but after that time Israel is never truly independent and a Davidic king is never anointed as ruler over Israel.
It is interesting to note that during the Babylonian exile, the Israelite people continued to make an effort to keep track of who was descended from King David and one of these people, the Exilarch, was the leader of the Jewish people. The theory was that one day Israel would again become an independent nation and the Exilarch would then be anointed as the King of Israel. This position of Exilarch was maintained as a descendent of King David for hundreds of years but was finally lost to history around 1154 AD.
In any case, by the time that Jesus was born, the people were still hoping that God would keep his promise and raise up a descendent of King David to be their messiah, their rescuer and redeemer. As we’ve mentioned before, most people thought that the messiah would be a military king that would raise an army, overthrow the Romans, and make Israel into an independent nation once again.
And after all of that, we arrive at the story contained in Luke 1:26-38.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
God tells Mary that her son, as a descendent from the kingly line of David, would become the king of Israel, rule over the children of Jacob forever, and his kingdom would never end. God was about to keep the promise that he had made to King David almost a thousand years earlier. And, although that is a really big deal, it get’s even bigger when we realize something else that the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 16:25-27 where he says:
25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Paul says that we are here only because of the message of the gospel and we have been given the ability to share the Good News of that gospel message to others. Now, we finally understand the full meaning of the Old Testament prophecies that told us about the messiah that was to come and the King that would rule and reign forever. But Paul also says that this understanding has come to us so that the Gentiles might come to faith in Jesus Christ and thus become obedient to him.
And this is why Christmas is such a big deal.
The coming of Jesus not only represents the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David as the descendent that would rule over the people of Israel forever, but also the king that would welcome the Gentiles into that same kingdom. Since God made a covenant with Abraham and created his Chosen People, humanity had been divided into two groups, “us” and “them.” You were either a part of God’s covenant and a member of God’s chosen people, or you weren’t. You were either a Jew or you weren’t and if you weren’t you were therefore a Gentile. But the coming of Jesus changes all of that. Jesus came not only to fulfill God’s promise to David, but also to rescue the Gentiles and thus invite the entire world into God’s kingdom.
Christmas is a big deal because this is the greatest merger in all of human history. With the birth of Jesus, there is no longer any “us” or “them.” There are no longer “insiders” and “outsiders.”
All of humanity has been invited into God’s family… forever.
We… have been invited in… and have been adopted as sons and daughters of God.
And that is worth celebrating.
Merry Christmas everyone.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.