Weekly Seeds: A Tent, A Tabernacle, A Throne

Sunday, December 24, 2023
Fourth Sunday of Advent Sunday | Year B

Focus Theme:
A Tent, A Tabernacle, A Throne

Focus Prayer:
Tabernacling God, Tear open the heavens and we will declare your glory. Amen.

Focus Reading:
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
7 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” 3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”
4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” 8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.
16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

All readings for this Sunday:
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 • Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 • Romans 16:25-27 • Luke 1:26-38

Focus Questions:
Where do you find God?
Are their places that you encounter God more routinely than others?
How can you cultivate awareness of God’s abiding presence?
How do you embody divine presence and freedom?
Where would you like to go with God that you have not yet ventured?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

I have recently been introduced to a mobile app game called Connections. The basic premise is to survey sixteen words and then categorize them in groups of four based on how they are connected. Some similarities are obvious, like schools of fish or tools used in construction. Others may require unique knowledge or intelligent guessing. Often, there may be a couple of words that fit in more than one category. Placing those words can involve a process of elimination.

The theme of this reflection is a grouping based on connections. Each word is drawn from the many words found in the text based on their similarities. They all begin with the letter “T”, however, because this is not Sesame Street, that’s not the commonality in question (although alliteration can be delightful). No, finding the connection requires exploring the character and nature of each component part individually.

A nomadic people have found a home. A people accustomed to living in war enter into a time of peace. They are ready and eager to be rooted, not only to one another, but to a place, a territory, and a land to claim as their own. The time to celebrate and to move forward in a new era has arrived, and their king, named David, has led them to this point. He is ready and eager to move them forward to enjoy the fruits of their victories. The text centers on the significance of this moment from his perspective.

This chapter forms the climax of the whole Davidic tradition and brings together two themes, the foundation of the Davidic dynasty and the building of the temple….The connection between the two themes is the word “house,” used in two different ways. David is not to build a house (building) for the Lord, but the Lord will establish a house (dynasty) for David. All the positive and beneficial aspects of kingship presented in the rest of Scripture center on the Davidic line. David was the one with whom God made a personal covenant. Verse 1 sets the scene. David had rest from all his enemies. He therefore, perhaps reflecting on Deuteronomy 12:10–11 or the tradition on which it was based, decided that it was time to build a permanent temple in Jerusalem in which to house the ark of God. The divine guarantee and endorsement of David’s throne came only after David had been proclaimed king by popular acclaim (5:3) and by conquest. In spite of his initial anointing by Samuel (1 Sam. 16), up to this stage he had been a soldier-king. Only in this chapter is the concept of sacral consecration formulated. David recognized the part that God has played in his life so far, for the LORD had given him rest. He consulted Nathan the prophet to confirm that the planned temple was the right thing to do in God’s eyes as well as his own, and Nathan initially gave him that confirmation.
Mary J. Evans

David acts with good intentions and practice. He seeks to honor God and consults God’s messenger for confirmation of God’s will. The prophet responds based on what they know to be true of God. On the face of things, it is hard to imagine a problem with David’s plan. The prophet’s confidence in their knowledge of God’s perspective in this specific instance serves as a caution against limiting God to our knowledge and experience with God. The Holy One cannot be contained.

David proposes to build a temple. Temple building is undoubtedly a mixed act of genuine piety and self-serving legitimation. These verses reflect what must have been an honest dispute in Israel concerning the tension between God’s freedom and God’s presence. The temple guarantees God’s presence but at the same time militates against God’s freedom. Nathan (who now appears for the first time) authorizes a temple (v. 3). Nathan senses no contradiction between Yahweh’s character and the requirements of the royal regime. The initial building permit is not the end of the question, however. In verse 3 Nathan’s permit is in his own voice. In verses 5–7 the voice is that of Yahweh, who speaks directly to Nathan and withdraws the permit. Yahweh argues that a permanent residence is unacceptable because it violates Yahweh’s freedom. Indeed, a permanent dwelling will prevent Yahweh from “coming and going.” This is a God who will not be held in place by any religious arrangement. “Cedar” is a commodity kings like and value (vv. 2, 7; cf. 5:11; Jer. 22:14–15). The plushness of the proposed temple contradicts Yahweh’s self-understanding. Yahweh will not be bought off, controlled, or domesticated by such luxury. Yahweh has been a free God and will continue to be. The royal apparatus is not able to make Yahweh its patron.
Walter Brueggemann

In the gospel reading, the only question Mary raises to the angel delivering the message of God’s call to her is “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” She has just been told that she will mother the next king, heir to the throne of David, and she does not seem fazed by that possibility. The logistics of this happening are what concern her. The Son of the Most High dwelling in her body is what seems inconceivable.

The Holy One’s response to David’s intentions make it clear: Creator can dwell wherever they choose. God turns tabernacle, the noun, into a verb. The Holy One tabernacled in the tent during their time of wandering and war. They tabernacled in the temple once it was later built. They tabernacle on the throne in heaven from before our beginnings. Tabernacling of the Most High will have no end.

The truth is that David does build the tabernacle of God, it’s just not confined to a building. David led the people from a tent while moving his station of operations from place to place. He wanted to build a grand physical structure–a tabernacle/temple–to bring glory to God. His intentions were noble and good, his target was off. As Revelation 21:3 states, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.” God’s covenantal love endures forever. While the covenant is not explicitly referenced, the Holy One’s assurance in verse 16 reaffirms the promise of abiding love and mutuality between God and God’s beloved. The places that mark milestones in that relationship are significant but not the most important part. It’s the covenant that ultimately proves essential.

[quote] These verses begin to state God’s positive intentions for David. He is to be reminded again of God’s gracious delivering acts and can have confidence for the future based on his knowledge of the way in which God has been with him in the past. God speaks of his particular choice and election of David—he has already been appointed as nagîd, ruler or prince. God gives him a personal promise of a great name and a great house. Verse 10 shows that this personal promise to David is in the context of God’s concern for all the people. The well-being of the people is secured within the Davidic covenant.
Mary J. Evans

The angelic messenger will inform Mary that her child, the Son of the Most High, will reign from David’s throne. Jesus will not replace David, as some would have hoped. Rather, Jesus will be a new leader carrying forth the ancient covenant in his human body and his divine spirit. The coming of Christ was a tearing open of the heavens. The connection between the tent, the tabernacle, the temple, and the throne is that these are places to encounter heaven on earth. But, like the Connections game I play, these words serve as samples of an infinite catalog of possibilities. God will not be bound to a box, a tent, or the church meeting house.

The Sovereign God comes into the world with humility and vulnerability echoed through a baby’s cry. The Son of the Most High will grow and develop as a human being before publicly proclaiming the good news. Jesus will travel from place to place, including but not limited to temples and possibly tents, free to be God with Us without bounds or confines. Nothing is impossible for God. Nowhere is unreachable by God. That’s good news. Glory to God…everywhere.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“And the darkness of John’s sin was like the darkness of the church on Saturday evenings[…] It was like his thoughts as he moved about the tabernacle in which his life had been spent; the tabernacle that he hated, yet loved and feared[…] The darkness of his sin was in the hardheartedness with which he resisted God’s power; in the scorn that was often his while he listened to the crying, breaking voices, and watched the black skin glisten while they lifted up their arms and fell on their faces before the Lord. For he had made his decision. He would not be like his father, or his father’s fathers. He would have another life.”
— James Baldwin

For Further Reflection
“When it came time to build a tabernacle, the Israelite women brought all their mirrors to Moses so he could use them to make God’s building more beautiful. (Exodus 38:8.) They were far more interested in enjoying God’s glory than reflecting on their own images.” — Gwendolyn Díaz
“Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun,—part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal.” — John Muir
“They who dwell within the Tabernacle of God, and are established upon the seats of everlasting glory, will refuse, though they be dying of hunger, to stretch their hands, and seize unlawfully the property of their neighbour, however vile and worthless he may be. The purpose of the one true God in manifesting Himself is to summon all mankind to truthfulness and sincerity, to piety and trustworthiness, to resignation and submissiveness to the will of God, to forbearance and kindliness, to uprightness and wisdom. His object is to array every man with the mantle of a saintly character, and to adorn him with the ornament of holy and goodly deeds….” ― Baha’u’llah

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

You’re welcome to use this resource in your congregation’s Bible study groups.

Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.