The Unexpected Reign of the Prince of Peace

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B.Nick Vujicic, a man with no limbs but two working digits on his left leg stump.

The Seven Word Sermon: You’ll always misinterpret God’s promises. Trust anyway!

God’s promises never work out the way you expect.

We have a deep tradition, though it’s not spelled out in the Bible, that the Blessed Virgin Mary knew she was called to dedicate herself to God’s service from the earliest days of her life. God’s handmaid was probably not expecting an angel to declare that she was to be shamed by being thought an unmarried mother, but her divine calling led her to childbirth at the manger, flight into Egypt, and pain at the foot of the Cross.

Moses was astonished to hear God’s voice from a burning bush declaring that despite his stutter, he would confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites to the promised land. But after the initial wonder of calling ten plagues on Egypt and parting the great sea, he discovered that his calling would include 40 years trudging through the wilderness only to die within sight of the Promised Land.

Today’s readings begin with King David, a mighty warrior. The Old Testament stirs up many difficult questions – did God really ask his Jewish followers to steal territory and commit ethnic cleansing? That’s a question to explore another day. For now, let us focus on King David, who is hatching a plan to build a great Temple in Jerusalem, where there is still no building for worship, only a tent.

Today’s reading skips a few lines. We only hear the part where the prophet, Nathan, says that God will establish David’s throne and make him a House – that is, a strong line of royal descendants. But elsewhere, the Bible tells us that God forbade David to build the Temple, because he had shed too much blood; instead, this work would fall to his son, a man of peace.

David’s son, Solomon, did indeed become King and built the first Jewish Temple. But then things went horribly wrong. There was a rebellion, and the northern part of Israel broke away, setting up its own dynasty of kings. Within 300 years the Northern Kingdom had been destroyed by the powerful empire of Assyria.

King Solomon’s descendents kept control of the Southern Kingdom, called Judah, and lasted 150 years longer before being overpowered by Babylon. Half a century later, in the Game of Thrones which marked the politics of the Middle East, the Persians were in control and allowed the Jewish people back to Jerusalem – but not with their own king. Israel was then conquered by the Greeks, who were in turn subdued by the Roman Empire.

By the time of the birth of Jesus, Jerusalem was part of a Roman province ruled by King Herod the Great – and Christ was crucified under his grandson, Herod Agrippa. But the Herods were not descendants of King David – they came from a family which had only become Jewish a hundred years earlier. On the other hand, today’s Gospel makes a point of telling us that St Joseph, the legal guardian of Jesus, was “of the House of David”. Of course, by that time, King David would have many thousands of descendents in the population of Israel!

What went wrong? Didn’t God promise David that his “House and sovereignty will always stand secure” and that his “throne [would] be established for ever”? Even if we recognise that Our Lord is the promised King, there is a gap of 600 years from the fall of Judah until the life of Christ!

God’s promises never work out the way you expect.

“Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The listeners thought Jesus was talking about a Temple built of stone, but in fact he was speaking of his own body. At the heart of our Christian faith is an apparent disaster, the death of Jesus, which God used to grant life to the whole human race.

Slowly, painfully, we begin to realise that God’s idea of an established House, a secure Throne, is not what we would like it to be. In God’s plan, nothing is more secure than a death, trusting in God, followed by a resurrection.

So often, the events of our lives don’t work out the way we want them to. Sometimes, that’s as trivial as not quite getting all the cards written in time for the last posting date. Other times, that’s as tragic as the Christmas season being permanently tainted by the loss of a loved one. Either way, we must make a choice: is God the one we will blame for our troubles, or the one we will trust to carry us through?

If you search the Internet for the term, ‘Ugliest Woman in the World‘, you will find the story of Lizzie Velasquez, a Catholic from Austin, Texas. Due to a medical condition which makes her body unable to store any fat, when you look at Lizzie, what you see is skin and bones. But does Lizzie blame God? No! She has said: “God … blessed me with the greatest blessing of my life, which is my syndrome.” By the age of 25, Lizzie had graduated from college, published two books, and had gained a reputation as a motivational speaker.

Or you could ponder the story of Nick Vujicic, also a Christian, who was born with no arms or legs. That hasn’t stopped him travelling to 44 countries and speaking to more than two thousand audiences about what it means to live a life without limits!

God’s promises never work out the way you expect.

In God’s plan, nothing is more secure than a death, trusting in God, followed by a resurrection.

God is the one who establishes a secure throne, which is only temporarily ruined for 600 years.

God is the one who comes as a King laid in a manger.

God is the one who brings hope to the hopeless, who causes love and peace to flourish where all hope seems lost.

In December 1914, German and British soldiers played football in no-man’s-land. Perhaps not as extensively as the rumours would have you believe, but the historians have checked it out, and in one or two places, it did happen.

In December 2014, America woke up one Thursday morning to discover that – with a little help from Pope Francis – Cuba and the United States were going to repair their tattered and shattered relationship.

In places where peace seems most unlikely, the Prince of Peace has triumphed. God will always do this, if we have patience and trust.

God’s promises never work out the way you expect.

In God’s plan, nothing is more secure than a death, trusting in God, followed by a resurrection.

The Christ-child was born of Mary to show us how God keeps his promises not by shielding us from tragedy but by walking with us through the heart of the pain and raising us up on the other side. This is an uncomfortable God, a God of surprises, but the only God worth celebrating this Christmas. Nick and Lizzie, King David and Blessed Mary, all chose to praise God in the midst of the difficulties they faced. Will you join them?