Unless the Lord build the house, you labor in vain to build it.
Unless the Lord guard and keep the city, in vain do you keep vigil.
He is the Builder of all things, the Maker of the heavens and the earth out of nothing. He speaks, and it is so. He establishes and continues to uphold you and all of Creation by His Word.
It is not for you to build and achieve, but for the Lord to speak, and by His Word to give His good gifts, to accomplish His purposes for you and for all, according to His good and gracious will.
So does He call Abraham from the land of the Chaldeans; He brings him in and settles him in a good land. And He makes that one old man, as good as dead, the father of many nations.
He brings the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel out of Egypt, and He makes of them His own children, His people, His chosen nation, in order to bless all the nations of the earth. He sustains them through the wilderness, and He brings them into the Land that He promised. He defeats and drives out their enemies, granting them victory in battles they barely fight, wherever He directs. He gives them a safe place to call their own, a place of peace and rest. He shelters and protects them. He dwells among them with His Word, and He remembers His covenant with them.
Though the people are stubborn, frequently ungrateful, often rebellious and resistant to His Word, He raises up a king for them, a ruler after His own heart. He finds and chooses David, He calls him and anoints him; He takes him from shepherding sheep to shepherding Israel. The Lord crowns David a prince among His people, giving him victory over all his enemies and exalting his name.
It is the Lord who does all of this for David; the Lord who gives all of this to David; the Lord who builds up David’s house and blesses it. Not for David only, but for the blessing of all the people.
David is always at his best when he trusts that gracious providence of God, the Lord, and lives accordingly. Whenever he proceeds by faith in the Word of the Lord, he receives exactly what the Lord has promised, even against impossible odds. His greatness and his glory are thus to receive all things by grace, and to live by faith in the Word and promises of God.
Of all those Words and promises, there is none greater than the one that David received in response to his proposal and plans for a temple. Not that he would get to do what he intended. But the Lord would build and establish the house of David, and raise up a Son of David to sit on his throne and reign forever. It is that Son of David who builds a house for God’s Name.
It is true that Solomon reigned after his father David, and that he built, with God’s approval, a great Temple in Jerusalem. There the Lord indeed caused His Name and His Glory to dwell with His people, hearing and receiving their prayers and their sacrifices, according to His Word. By the Old Testament Temple Liturgy, He forgave their many sins, both day by day and year after year, and with His forgiveness He bestowed His good and gracious gifts of body and soul upon them.
But neither Solomon nor his Temple were forever. In fact, both came to a rather disappointing end, subject to the judgment of God. Solomon was drawn away from the Lord by his numerous wives and their pagan gods. And over the ensuing years, the people regarded the Temple and their sacrifices as a guarantee against God’s wrath and punishment, as though they could buy Him off, even while they gave themselves over to false gods and the willful pursuits of their own flesh. Thus, after Solomon the kingdom was divided, and in time the Temple would be destroyed, Jerusalem laid waste, and the people taken into Babylonian captivity.
Such is life apart from the Word of God.
Yet, because the Lord is gracious, and life and salvation are by His grace alone, He does not forget His promises, but He fulfills His Word as He has spoken. He is faithful, and He does it.
He sends the angel Gabriel to speak His Word to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Nazareth. He fulfills what He promised, at a point when no one would have dreamed that it could happen, when the once illustrious house of David was in disarray, decrepit, little more than a stump. But the Lord takes the initiative, and He does everything from the ground up, by His grace.
It is no son of David, nor any other man, who conceives the Son of God in St. Mary’s womb, but God does it by His Word and Spirit. As from the beginning, the Lord speaks, and it is so.
As surely as all projects and pursuits without His Word shall fail, so surely does every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God accomplish His purposes. For no word is powerless with Him. That is the answer to St. Mary’s question: “How can this be?” And it is the answer to all of your questions, too. For all things are accomplished by the Word of God.
Faith echoes His Word with its own, “Let it be!” Mother Mary does not presume, but she hears and professes what the Lord has spoken. “Let it be to me according to Your Word.” That is the voice of faith, the prayer of a faithful servant of the Lord. And with that prayer of faith proceeds the obedience of faith, as well. You see that in St. Mary, to be sure, who receives everything by grace, but who is then also called to live and work by faith: to bear the Christ-Child in her womb, to bear reproach and suspicion from her fiancée and neighbors, to suffer hardship and loss, and to care for a Son whom she will see crucified before her very eyes in due time. She does not choose these works, nor does she offer them to God for the sake of gaining His favor. Indeed, she already has His favor! But in faith she says “Yes” and “Amen” to His Word.
You see that same obedience of faith in her father David at his best, and in her husband Joseph, who quietly accepts and follows the Word of God at every step along the way.
But you see the obedience of faith especially in St. Mary’s Son, our dear Lord Jesus Christ. For He, the Word-of-God-made-Flesh, lives as perfect Man — as your Brother in the flesh — by perfect faith in His God and Father. This is how closely, how deeply, how intimately the Lord has come and drawn near to you, to the extent that He lives your human life in the midst of sin and death. He establishes the house of David by establishing the house of God in His own flesh.
Even so, He establishes the house of David in Himself, in His own human flesh and blood, by trusting and relying on His Father to raise Him up and establish Him — by the way of the Cross!
Not only does He share your human flesh and blood and make it His own by His conception and birth from St. Mary, but He also shares your sins and your stripes, and He makes those His own. He takes ownership of your sins, and of the sins of all men and women, all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, as though He had committed every one of them Himself. And then He suffers the strokes of God and man in punishment for all those sins of yours and others. So fully does He share your shame and sorrows, even unto death. So fully is He with you, even to the bitter end.
He submits to His Cross and Passion in the obedience of faith, in the confidence of the Word and promise given to His father David (and to His Mother Mary). Though He is punished with the rod of men, and with the strokes of the sons of men, the Lord does not remove His loving-kindness from Him, nor remove Him from His throne. Even from the dead, from the dust of the earth, He raises Him up and establishes the throne of His Kingdom forever. And in the process, the sins of His people are forgiven, and all their punishments are removed. Their enemies are all defeated.
Thus, the Lord your God is with you, not only as your Brother in the flesh, and as your sacrificial Substitute in death, but as your King, which is also to be your Good Shepherd. As you live under Him in His Kingdom, you share fully in His faithfulness and obedience, in His victory over sin and death, and in the Glory of His Name. For just as all the people suffer when their king is unfaithful, so do all the people benefit and prosper together with this King, who is faithful in all things.
He shepherds and reigns over you in love, from His Cross, by His Word of the Gospel. He sends His messengers to you, to preach in His Name, as He sent Nathan to David and the angel Gabriel to Mary, and as He sent St. Paul to preach even to Rome and beyond. By such preaching, you are established in His grace, in the household and family of His Church, and all the wealth and bounty of His Kingdom are given to you. Thus, you are rich in the midst of your poverty. You are alive, even in the face of your death. You are great and glorious before God, even though you suffer shame and sorrow on earth. And you are strong and steadfast, despite your frailty and weakness.
You live by faith in the Gospel, by which the Lord forgives your sins and declares you to be righteous, innocent, and pure. Your faith in this sure and certain Word of the Gospel is as much His good work in you, and His good gift to you, as the conception of the Son of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But so does it also become your own faith, as surely as the Son of God became St. Mary’s own Son. Not only that, but prayer and obedience of faith like hers are likewise yours, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So that, not only do you say “Yes” and “Amen,” and “Let it be,” to the Word and promises of God — which are spoken to you in the Gospel, and are for you — but you also live and walk according to the Word of the Lord within your calling.
And the Lord is with you in your calling, as He was with David and Mary in their callings. He is with you, and He is close to you, to strengthen and sustain you, to guard and keep you in those duties He has given you to do. And whereas your self-chosen projects and self-appointed pursuits are bound to fail and collapse, your works undertaken in accordance with the Word of the Lord will accomplish His purposes. They shall not fail. Nor shall you be put to shame.
Not because you are so faithful or flawless, but because the Lord is faithful and gracious, because He loves you, because He forgives all your sins, and because He will never let the righteous fall.
Oh, to be sure, you’re going to make mistakes, mess things up, blow it badly at times, and continue to sin in your thoughts, words, and deeds, up until the day you die. All the saints have been such sinners. But it is the Lord who builds the House and brings His people into it. So it is the Lord who delivers you from evil, who removes all your foes from within and without, and who grants you peace and rest within His House forevermore, all by the Word of His forgiveness.
It is already a done deal. For the dear Lord Jesus, the Son of David, St. Mary’s little Babe, has made your sins His own, and suffered all the punishments for them; so that by His stripes you are healed. And God has raised this Jesus from the dead. That is your righteousness, and that is your resurrection, no matter how many times (or how far) you have fallen. Just as He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns eternally, so do you live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Do not be afraid. The Lord is with you, and you have found favor in His sight. Behold, here is the House that He has built for you, that you may call upon His Name and be saved. Behold, here is the Body of Christ, which is the Temple of God on earth as it is in heaven; and here is the precious Blood, by which you are reconciled to God in Him.
His Peace be with you, according to His Word. For He speaks, and it is so.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon for 12/21/14: Advent IV
9 hours ago