Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday 21 December 2008 - Making Room for God

This sermon is based on 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 and Luke 1:26-38



For at least the last fortnight, every time I've gone to the Supermarket and I'm making polite conversation with the person behind the till, the conversational opener has been 'So are you ready for Christmas'?

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and hopefully that means that we are now almost ready for Christmas. Not just in terms of decorations and Christmas cards and arrangements for Christmas dinner but that we've prepared room in lives for the coming of the Messiah.

That's the question that I'd like to think about this morning: How do we make room for God in our lives? It strikes me that both the stories we read from Scripture this morning are about making room for God.

Building a Temple

In the first reading we heard this morning from 2 Samuel, King David wanted to build a permanent Temple for God.
And at first God says 'yes' but then he changes his mind and sends the prophet Nathan to tell David about the change of plans.

Now, building a Temple for the God of Israel might sound like a pious thing to do, but it wasn't entirely without an ulterior motive. In the Ancient world, 'building a temple for the god of our nation' was rather like building a magnificent town hall might be in our culture. It would have brought King David status both with his people and with the nations around him.

David had his own ideas about how to 'make space for God' in his world and in his life. And God had quite another idea.

At the end of the day, King David 'made space for God' by obeying God's commandment, even though it might have seemed to David that he was forsaking the kind of show of power that a King needed in order to rule successfully.

The next thing that happens in the story is that God blesses David and guarantees him that he will be the founder of an enduring dynasty blessed by God. What seemed at first like bad news turned out to be a blessing and God makes a place for David and his descendants in the history of God's saving purposes.

Building a Messiah

And then, of course, there is Mary's story. Mary is asked to make space for God in a most extraordinary way.

In fact, the word 'extraordinary' probably doesn't do her experience justice, just like the term 'greatly troubled' (used in the NIV) doesn't either. The word used in Greek means something more like 'terrified'. Mary is terrified by the angel. And terrified of what is being asked of her.

But the Angel tells Mary not to be afraid. In Scripture, this is always the instruction when an Angel of God appears: 'Do not be afraid of God's messenger. Do not be afraid of God's message'.

Mary is told that she will be given the power of the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill what is being asked of her. And she responds with a most extraordinary and revolutionary hymn. The Magnificat comes from the mouth of a servant-girl but it does not seem to come from the mouth of a scullery-maid but rather from someone more like the Matron of the House.

Mary too made room for God and what seemed at first like bad news turned into a blessing.

This is not a woman overcome against her will by the Spirit of God, but a woman who is empowered from within by the Spirit.

But what if neither King David nor Mary had been willing to make room for God in their lives? What if they had not been willing to listen to the voice of God? What if they had not been willing to obey it?

What if David had seen Nathan's prophecy as a political plot to stand in the way of his glory and political ambitions? What if David thought he knew better than God how to make room for God?

And what if Mary had been unwilling to be the mother of the Messiah because the task was just too difficult? What if Mary had protested that she was unworthy of such a task? Or indeed that she was unprepared for it? What if Mary had simply been unwilling to make room for God?

Making Room in our Lives

The question I asked earlier was: How do we make room for God in our lives? And, in a minute, I'm going to leave you with that question to answer for yourself.

I just want to offer a few observations.

1) Sometimes it's hard to make room for God in our lives because we fail to hear God's authentic voice and we let the voice of our culture's prevailing values drown it out. That would have been a very easy thing for David to do: 'Of course God wants me to build him a Temple. Nathan is a fake.' For example, I think we get seduced by this sort of thinking when we apply our cultural model of 'success' on to church or our cultural model of 'popularity' on to being a Christian disciple.

2) Sometimes it's difficult to make room for God in our lives because a task seems daunting or because we are afraid.
I'm sure many of us can think of examples from our own lives where were failed to follow God's leading because we felt afraid and unprepared. I suspect that churches do it too, when we work to an unspoken agenda that everything we do needs to be 'successful'. (And I'm preaching to myself here...) Perhaps there are times when we need to be less afraid of failure and ready to try things that might not work out.

3) Sometimes it's difficult to make room for God in our lives because we feel unworthy. At times like this, we forget that no one is worthy in and of themselves. But it is through the power of God's Holy Spirit, that he uses flawed human beings to do his will. Friends or family sometimes ask us to do things that we don't feel 'worthy' of doing: be a best man, stay with an expectant mother in labour, give a tribute at a funeral, but we often do these things out of friendship and love, even if we don't feel worthy. If God calls us to a task, he won't force us to do it, but he will equip us for the task if we say 'yes' just as he equipped the young girl Mary for a most daunting task.


So I leave us all with that question this morning: 'How do we make room for God in our lives?'

David and Mary made room for God in ways that they did not expect to do and both were blessed in ways they didn't expect.  

I pray that we may be given the grace to make room for God in our own lives and may we be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be agents of God's blessings.

In these last three days of Advent, may our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour. Amen

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