December 21, 2014
Fourth Sunday of Advent
First Reading: 2 Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Peace is such an elusive state of mind. Many times we pray for peace, talk about peace, read about peace, only to fall back into being overwhelmed by the distractions, sorrows and sheer work of being human. This is why we find prayer so difficult. The very first steps of prayer—finding a quiet place, then quieting down our minds so they do not drown out the voice of God—often seem like insurmountable obstacles, cliffs too high to climb. In this Sunday’s first reading from 2 Samuel, David receives a significant promise from the Lord involving peace, the Temple and the everlasting reign of his son, which reveals the very heart of peace: worship.
The Context of Combat
Before he was a king, David was a warrior. He led a band of armed men around the wilderness, fought skirmishes with rival factions and other enemies, and made a name for himself as a warlord. He climbed from his humble roots as a boy shepherd to being the warring king of Israel. Even after his accession to the throne, the early years of his reign were dominated by combat. David’s combat set the stage for his reign, but it also set up something else: peace. Several times our reading emphasizes David’s “rest” from his enemies. Once David has fought hard and obtained victory as a warrior, he establishes peace, rest, quiet. The wars have been fought and now he can truly rest.
What is Peace, Anyway?
Our picture of the optimum state of rest would probably humor the ancient king. We might envision him coming home from a hard day of attacking walled cities to sit on his recliner, kick off his shoes and watch some football. But David does not see peace as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Instead, he views it as a chance for worship. The first thing he wants to do is build something, to build a Temple for the true worship of God. We should notice his instincts. Peace isn’t just about relaxing or temporarily resting in order to be ready for more combat. Peace has a purpose, a goal and that goal is worship.
Solomon and Jesus
David wants to build a Temple, but the Lord actually prevents him and designates his heir as the one who will build it. Why? Elsewhere, in 1 Chr 28:3, we learn that David is not allowed to build the Temple because he is a “man of war” who has shed blood. Temple-building is a peaceful project, one to be undertaken by a man of peace, namely, David’s son Solomon. Solomon will be the one who fulfills 2 Sam 7:13, “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (RSV). This verse and a few others that indicate Solomon himself are omitted from the Lectionary reading in order to focus our attention on the “True Solomon,” the true man of peace, the Son of David par excellence: Jesus himself.
In the Gospel for today, the angel tells Mary, “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33). Jesus is the one who will ultimately bring the Lord’s promise to David of an everlasting throne to fulfillment. The line of Davidic kings eventually fails. After the Babylonians conquer Judah, no more sons of David will reign in Jerusalem on a literal throne. But Jesus, who truly is descended from David, will take up the promise and reign over not only all Israel, but the whole world as the Davidic king. The covenant that the Lord establishes with David will not fail, but come to fruition. While in one sense, this reading is forecasting the coming reign of Solomon, in another, it is opening our eyes to see the Messiah.
This reading focuses deeply on the Temple. The Temple in the Old Testament is a permanent sanctuary which replaces the old tabernacle of Moses. It is the central, official place where God is worshipped. But when Jesus comes, he “builds a temple” like Solomon did, but this time, it is the “temple of his body” (John 2:21). Jesus’ body is the new location where God is worshipped. That idea takes on two different dimensions in the New Testament: we worship the body of Christ in the Eucharist and we become the body of Christ by virtue of baptism. We become “members” (as in parts of the body), and “living stones” who make up the Temple of God (see 1 Cor 3:16, 12:12; Eph 2:21; 1 Pet 2:5). Jesus, as the new David, does combat with the forces of evil, sin, and death. But as the new Solomon, he builds a temple for us to worship God in. He acts as a king, establishing the context of peace in which we can then truly build a relationship with God, loving him in rightly-ordered worship.
Perhaps the two stages of temple-building can help us find a path to prayer. First, we must do “combat” with the world around us—fiercely fighting off distraction, scheduling in the time, finding a quiet location. Second, then we can “build a temple” as we recollect ourselves, free our minds from all the things that normally occupy us, and begin to allow our hearts to settle on Him. Then we can find “rest from our enemies” and “dwell in our own place” and “be disturbed no more” (see 2 Sam 7:10) as we relate to God in authentic worship. Walking that path, we can find for ourselves not just peace of heart, but what lies at the heart of peace.