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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Does God Keep His Promises?

Robert Barron - Does God Keep His Promises?

Robert Barron - Does God Keep His Promises?
TOPICS: God's Promises, Faithfulness

Peace, be with you. Friends, the readings for this fourth Sunday of Advent are very dramatic. And they place us right in the heart of a central mystery in the Bible, which is the mystery of God's providence, that God cares for his world, but often in a way that is confounding to us. Why? Because God plays a subtle and long game. So God is a God who makes promises. Yes, indeed. And he's faithful to them. But they often don't arrive just as we'd expect them to. He plays a long game, which is why we have to wait. And that's why it's so important these readings take place on this fourth Sunday of our waiting season of Advent. So the first reading from 2 Samuel takes us back to around the tenth century BC, that's about a thousand years before Jesus, six hundred years or so before Plato and Aristotle, five hundred years before the Buddha, to the time of King David.

We hear of David now, ensconced in his palace, in his new capital city of Jerusalem, his enemies finally subdued, and his thoughts now turn to the Lord. Listen: "Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent"! Regretting this, David decides, "I want to build a great house for the ark of the covenant. I want to build a great temple". Now, of course, you remember the Ark. You're going back now two hundred years before David. The Israelites build it in the wilderness; it houses the tablets of the Ten Commandments. It's the great abiding presence of the Lord among them. It has accompanied Israel all these years of their wandering and their wars and so on. And now David says, "Here I am, all settled in. I need to build a house for the Lord". And initially, Nathan, his court prophet, tells him, "Go ahead. That's a good idea". And indeed, it does seem to be a very noble idea. David is not seeking something for himself, but seeking something for the Lord.

But then, that night, Nathan has a dream in which the Lord speaks to him and tells him very clearly that it's not his desire that David build the temple. He says, "I've taken David from the care of his father's flocks. I've taken him from being a little shepherd boy to being the shepherd of my people, Israel. But my will is not that he builds me a house". Rather, God reveals to Nathan, "I will turn the tables on David, but in a very gracious way". Here's what he says: "The LORD ... reveals to you that he will establish a house for you". So David's plan: "I'm going to build the Lord a house". "No, I don't want that. Solomon will build it". So we'll see that, indeed, he wants David's son to build a house, but David, not you. "In fact, I'm going to build you a house". And he's playing on words here, not a physical house but rather the house of your dynasty. Listen: The house of David will last "forever before me; your throne shall stand... forever".

Now, put yourself in the place of an Old Testament figure like David. There is no promise God could make more extravagant than this one: that his name would perdure; that the throne he had established for himself, and it's after all those wars with Saul, and oh, lots of ups and downs, the throne of David will now last forever. It was the most extraordinary, extravagant promise God could make. And indeed, the House of David lasts for a good, long time: the time of David, tenth century BC, until around the year 587 BC, when the Babylonians overrun Jerusalem, destroy the temple, and end the Davidic line. This is a good run! Four hundred years. Think of if our country now goes on for another 150 years.

You'd say, "Boy, what an extraordinary run". But it did end. In fact, if you want to see the details here, go to 2 Kings, and the terrible story of Zedekiah. He's the last King in David's line. His sons are killed before him, and he's blinded and then led off in chains to Babylon where he dies in exile. Mind you, I mentioned this last time, the disaster of the Babylonian captivity: the end of the political establishment of Israel, the destruction of the capital city, the burning down of the temple. And, we're going to miss this, but they didn't, the end of David's line. So what about the promise of Nathan? What about what God revealed to David? That "your throne will last forever"? That was part of the psychological and spiritual disaster of the Babylonian captivity, the exile and death of Zedekiah: the Davidic line has ended.

Okay. Here's the thing now, everybody. And it's a weird thing. Despite this fact, Israel continued to meditate upon 2 Samuel chapter 7. Despite the death of Zedekiah, despite the end of the Davidic line, they preserved the memory of Nathan's prophecy. In fact, this is interesting: 2 Samuel, like much of the Old Testament, was finally written down, so it existed probably in oral form, in various forms, but finally written down in the form that we know it after the Babylonian exile ended. See how strange that is. Those who wrote it down finally knew that the Davidic line had ended, and yet they preserved in their most sacred text this promise. Hmm. They continued hoping against hope that it might still be true. Okay.

Now, fast forward from that point another five hundred years, and come to a little town in the northern part of the Holy Land, in the more Israelite territory, a little town called Nazareth. We hear that an angel of the Lord, Gabriel by name, is appearing to a young maiden. Oh, maybe she's fifteen or so years old. She's betrothed to a man named Joseph from the House of David. Ah, their ears are perking up. The house of David. Though the line ended with Zedekiah, yet the house of David mysteriously perdured, didn't it? Think here maybe of people today in France that said that their descendants of Louis XVI are still around, and the House of Bourbon endures, even though politically they're far from power. The house of David, that still had a magical overtone for them. Well, this young virgin, betrothed to a man from the house of David, would therefore, legally speaking, belong herself to the house of David.

What does the angel Gabriel say to her? Now, we've heard these words, I know, a thousand times. And when we hear this Gospel, they probably just kind of run through our minds. "Oh yeah, the angel says all kinds of nice, pious things to Mary". Listen to what he said. First of all, greeting her as "full of grace" (kecharitomene), one of the most beautiful, powerful descriptions anywhere in the Bible. Nobody in the Bible outside of God has a title as exalted as that. It means full of grace. We repeat it, by the way, every time we pray the Hail Mary: "Hail, Mary, kecharitomene (full of grace)". He then says that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son. "He will be great and will be called [the] Son of the Most High". Okay. But then comes the kicker, which again, we might overlook, but trust me, they didn't overlook it.

Listen: "And the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end". It looked like it was all over with the death of Zedekiah. It looked like the Davidic line that had a good run, but it came to an end, and I guess Nathan's prophecy is not true; I guess the Lord is not true to his promises. "No"! says this angel now, in the most surprising way. Who would have imagined the Davidic line continuing through this Virgin of Nazareth, betrothed to a man of the house of David, who will give birth to a son, who will have the throne of Jacob, and whose reign will last forever? God is true to his promises, even though it took a long time for them to see it. God is true to his promises, even though it happened in the most surprising way.

God said to David, "I'm going to build you a house", and now we see that four-hundred-year line of Davidic kings wasn't exactly the house he was talking about. It was, if you want, a sort of symbol or a precursor of it. What's the real house? The real house is the body of his Son in whom God himself is pleased to dwell and into which he would invite the whole world. The House of David is Christ himself, and, by extension, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. And don't we have the guarantee from Christ himself that he will build that Church upon a rock and the gates of hell will not prevail against it? Now we see, and we who have inherited two thousand years of the tradition of the Church, now we know what Nathan's prophecy was about.

Now we know what the real house of David is. It's the Church, the Mystical Body of Jesus. And this will indeed last forever. In this sacred space, we find our safety, and we find our peace. I know as we look at history and time and our own lives, we're tempted to say, "Uh, there's no God watching over things and providing for things". We'll quote "Macbeth": "It's just a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". "No, no, no," biblical people always say. No, no. The providential God, true to his promises, is the Lord of history. The unfolding of his design, however, might not be what we expect, and certainly will not be on the timetable that we expect. But in an attitude of hopeful anticipation, we wait for its fulfillment. How wonderful, now, on this fourth Sunday of Advent, the Church gives us this meditation on the house of David, the throne of David that will last forever: Christ the Lord and his Mystical Body, the Church. And God bless you.
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