The nave and pulpit in an engraving of around 1837

SERMON: What Can I Give Him?

A sermon preached by Nikolaj Christensen on the 4th Sunday of Advent, 20 December 2020.

What do you give the person who has everything? That’s the problem faced by King David in our Old Testament reading for today. And he decides: I’m going to give God a house, a temple; enough with staying in a tent. But a house was not on God’s Christmas list: If I had wanted a house, I would have told you, he says in more or less those words.

Perhaps you know what it’s like to receive a gift that the giver thought you ought to want. Or perhaps a gift which seems to have been given just as much for the giver’s own enjoyment as for yours. David was keen for his God to have a nice temple; this is supposed to be the Lord most high after all. It’s always tempting to try and put God in a box, to domesticate him. But God is quite happy to ‘move about’ among us, as he says. He already has a home, with his people.

What God does want is to give David a house, in the metaphorical sense: a dynasty. ‘Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me.’ This comes with no strings attached. Not even a little: if you behave… No. Because the throne is a free gift, to a man who didn’t always deserve it, and to his successors who more often than not didn’t deserve it. This wasn’t just for David’s own sake either, but for the sake of giving a firm foundation for God’s people to live in peace from their neighbours, to be planted firmly ‘in their own place’. Again, something that was entirely God’s initiative and not based on merit.

And so, as our Psalm said, the ‘loving-kindness of the Lord’ continued ‘throughout’ the generations, through highs and lows, until we land in a small town in the Holy Land where a young woman was preparing to leave home, to go and be the wife of one of David’s more humble descendants. But then an angel came to visit.

The angel says some more about God’s undeserved favour. And suddenly the young woman’s story is much more entwined with the promise made to David than she would have imagined. ‘you will conceive … a son, … He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever’.

When God said to David that the first thing on his mind was not a house made of cedarwood, but a house made of David’s descendants, that meant the symbol of God’s presence on earth wasn’t mainly to be a building but a personc. And ultimately that calls for someone who can fully embody the goodness of God. That’s where Mary’s son comes into the picture.

And now, he’s coming. It’s nearly Christmas – in a year where it felt like Lent rolled right on into a long Advent. It’s been a long journey to Bethlehem. Today is the third Sunday in a row where Jesus hasn’t said a word in our Gospel readings. But soon the new-born’s cry, the sweetest sound known to humankind, even more magical than a baby’s laughter; the relief of that first cry – imagine it – that sound will rend the ‘silent night’.

God is quite happy to be found where we don’t expect him: in a marginal Jewish peasant, in a teenage girl’s womb. And poor as he was, we have nothing to give him — except the thing he really wants:

            Yet what I can I give Him, —

            Give my heart.