Redeeeming Fallen Families

Redeeeming Fallen Families

Homily for The Forth Sunday of Advent

December 24, 2023

Redeeeming Fallen Families

Homily for Sunday, December 24, 2023
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

In this morning’s Old Testament lesson, King David, who was “settled in his house” and was at “rest from all his enemies around him,” wishes to build a house, or temple, for the Lord.  Though at first the prophet Nathan tells him to “Go, do what you have in mind; for the Lord is with you,” in a vision in the night the Lord tells Nathan that David is not to build a house for the Lord:

I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt... [God said.]  Did I ever speak a word… saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

Further, God adds that God instead will build David a “house,” meaning a dynasty:

Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and… your throne shall be established forever.

Ostensibly, this passage from 2 Samuel was chosen for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Sunday on which we often read of the Virgin Mary, because (according to Christian tradition) it is in Jesus, the “Son of David,” that David’s “house and… kingdom shall be made sure forever.”  

Though at first glance it may seem a compliment to associate Jesus with King David, a closer look at David suggests otherwise.  Take, for example,the passages in 2 Samuel that immediately precede and follow today’s lesson.  In the passage immediately preceding,the passage that tells how “David danced before the Lord with all his might” (2Sam 6:10), David’s wife Michal saw him dancing, and the scriptures say that she “despised him in her heart” (6:16).  There is some history here.  Michal was the daughter of Saul, David’s predecessor as king and also “frenemy.”  Though earlier Michal loved David and prevailed upon her father to marry him, as Saul’s and David’s relationship deteriorated, Michal was taken from David and given to someone else (1 Sam 25:44).  In the meantime, David married other wives, became king and acquired a harem, some of whom may have been the“servants’ maids” before whom the scriptures say he danced.  Toward the end of the story there is a testy exchange between David and Michal that suggests that the marriage is not well, that Michal is jealous of David’s attention to other women and perhaps angry at his negligence of her. Tellingly, the passage ends with, “And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death” (6:23).  For all his battlefield success, David was not an ideal husband.

And in the passage immediately following today’s reading, David commits what today we would regard as a war crime.  From 2 Samuel 8:

[David]also defeat ed the Moabites and, making them lie down on the ground, measured them off with a cord; he measured two lengths of cord for those who were to be put to death and one length for those who were to be spared. And the [spared] Moabites became servants to David.

Though David had started out as the fair-haired boy of Israel, David quickly became an ambitious, conniving, even Machiavellian operator, playing a drooling madman to escape a Philistine king (1 Sam 21:12-15), massacring whole towns to keep his real actions unknown to his overlords (1 Sam 27:8-12), and profiting politically from violent deaths in the house of Saul while carefully dissociating himself from the killings (e.g., 2 Sam 21:1-6).  

My hunch is that the lectionary connects Jesus with such a king because, consistent with much of the Christian tradition, the framers of the lectionary saw David as a “golden boy” whose association with Jesus could only prove favorable to Jesus.   But even if those who devised the lectionary read the David stories with a more focused eye and saw the considerable unsavory aspects of David’s character, even with such a reading it could be helpful to connect Jesus with David.  By showing Jesus as descended from a flawed human being, the lectionary drives home that Jesus is one of us.  Jesus, like us, has unsavory ancestors.  Jesus, like us,comes from a complex family system. Jesus, like us, has to deal with family history.  

Gregory of Nazianzus, a fourth-century theologian, said that “What is not assumed is not saved;” that is, if Jesus did not take it on, if Jesus in the Incarnation did not become it, then whatever part of our humanity Jesus did not assume, he did not save.  But, continues Gregory, in the Incarnation Jesus took on all aspects of our humanity – including the unsavory aspects of our past and our families and family systems – and he redeemed it. In the Incarnation, because he was descended from David, Jesus took onflawed, dysfunctional, toxic family systems… and redeemed them.

As we begin our celebration of the Incarnation tonight at Christmas Eve, this morning’s reading from 2 Samuel reminds us that Jesus is descended from a “royally” messed-up family, a family that may not be dissimilar from ours.  This reading gives us hope that – even if we have come from an unhealthy, flawed family, and even if in their dysfunction our family could not fully communicate to us how much we are loved – [this morning’s reading gives us hope that] Jesus, because he himself is descended from King David and David’s dysfunction, and because in the Incarnation whatever Jesus assumed he saved, [this reading gives us hope that Jesus] can redeem and save us even from the effects of an unhealthy and flawed family system.  And it reminds us that Jesus, if we let him, will yet find ways to enter in and to make known how much we are loved.


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