December 13, 2015 Advent 3C
Watch a video of this sermon here.
Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice!” and this third Sunday in the season of Advent is full of rejoicing. Next week, we will hear the story of Christ’s birth, and a few days after that, we will celebrate Christmas Eve. We are on the downward slope of this season of anticipation, of waiting. This should bring us great joy!
However, if you are like me, the “To Do” list is growing instead of shrinking right about now. I have bought exactly ONE Christmas present so far, and there are many preparations to make before I will feel ready for Christmas Eve. Right now, I’m closer to outright panic than restful rejoicing. Anyone else feel that way?
In the middle of all this anticipation, preparation, and expectation, our trek through the Bible brings us to an unexpected place. Instead of Bethlehem, we find ourselves in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion. Instead of wicked King Herod, we meet wise King Solomon. Instead of looking forward to the coming of Christ the Redeemer, we look backward to a time when Israel experienced peace and prosperity, a time of great joy, as the very first temple is completed, and the whole nation gathers in Jerusalem to celebrate its dedication.
Before we pick up the story, let’s do a quick review: God called Abraham to become the father of the nation of Israel. The mission of Israel was to point other nations, all peoples, to God. God wants all people to come back to him. God gave Israel a land and God allowed them to have kings. The first king was Saul who failed to represent God. God then chose David as king. David did represent God well, and even though he sinned terribly, he repented and captured the heart of a gracious God who is available to everyone. When David is old and dying he passes the leadership baton to Solomon.
God invites Solomon to ask for anything (1 Kings 3:5) and Solomon pleases God by asking for wisdom to rule well and administer justice. God gives Solomon what he asks for, and we see immediate evidence that this is so when Solomon’s wisdom is tested by two women who each claim the same baby as their own. (1 Kings 3:16-28)
Through the next few chapters of First Kings, we read about the temple Solomon builds for God, and about Solomon’s growing popularity. I Kings 6-10
When the temple is completed, all Israel comes to participate in its dedication. It is a time of feasting and rejoicing. Gaudete! Solomon shows the wisdom that God has given him in the prayer of dedication he prays.
12 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands. 13 Solomon had made a bronze platform five cubits long, five cubits wide, and three cubits high, and had set it in the court; and he stood on it. Then he knelt on his knees in the presence of the whole assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven. 14 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant in steadfast love with your servants who walk before you with all their heart— 15 you who have kept for your servant, my father David, what you promised to him. Indeed, you promised with your mouth and this day have fulfilled with your hand. 16 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant, my father David, that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children keep to their way, to walk in my law as you have walked before me.’ 17 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant David.
18 “But will God indeed reside with mortals on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! 19 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you. 20 May your eyes be open day and night toward this house, the place where you promised to set your name, and may you heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 21 And hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place; may you hear from heaven your dwelling place; hear and forgive.” (2 Chronicles 6:12-21)
This passage, and its partner in 1 Kings 8, demonstrates the power of prayer. Prayer isn’t new in the Bible, by any means. We have seen Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Hannah, and David in prayer. But prayer is found here and in the corresponding verses in 1 Kings 8 more than anywhere else in the Old Testament. Prayer becomes more closely associated in the Old Testament with Solomon than almost any other person except his father David, whose many prayers are recorded in the Psalms.
How exactly does a King pray? Let’s look at three features of Solomon’s prayer.
First, let’s consider a king’s posture of prayer: hands spread, on his knees before God, the king prays in the presence of all the people. Solomon has been addressing the people gathered at the temple, but now he turns away from the people and focuses his attention on God alone. We can see this focus reflected in the way Solomon repeats to God what he has already said to the people. He knows who his audience is, and when he talks to God, even though he knows the people are listening, he directs his attention to God alone.
Spreading hands indicates both a complete offering of oneself, and a willingness to receive God’s grace. Kneeling is an act of humility, unusual for a King, to whom others must kneel. In this way, Solomon gives testimony to the whole nation of Israel that he knows who is really in control. Solomon humbles himself before the Lord in a very public way. He is not ashamed to show his people that he reports to God, much as his father was unashamed to dance before the Lord when he first brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem.
This king prays with a posture of humility and reverence.
Second, we see that royal prayer begins with praise: Solomon describes God’s omnipotence and the history of God’s loving relationship with his people. “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant in steadfast love with your servants who walk before you with all their heart,” he begins. Notice that Solomon’s focus is on what God has done, not on what the people of Israel have done. Solomon’s praise goes from the general to the specific. He describes God’s promises to the nation of Israel first, then narrows his focus to God’s promises to David, and finally, to himself.
Third, a king’s prayer asks for forgiveness. This plea for God’s grace makes up the largest part of Solomon’s prayer of dedication. We only have the first part of this prayer as our reading for today, but Solomon uses seven different petitions to describe every possible circumstance in which someone might call upon God for help. And in every instance, Solomon asks God to “hear and forgive.”
Five of these seven petitions are all about forgiveness for sins. Solomon is wise to recognize that many times, it is our need for God’s forgiveness that brings us to our knees in prayer. Our need for forgiveness is rooted in our sin, and that might not be a very popular topic on this Sunday that should be full of anticipation and joy. Yet, there it is. We sin, and we need forgiveness. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
In fact, I think deceit is at the core of just about every sin you can imagine. It started in the Garden of Eden when the serpent lied to Eve, and then she and Adam tried to lie to God to cover up their sin. We lie to ourselves, making excuses for our wrongs, and we lie to each other to justify what we’ve done. We convince ourselves that we are no worse than the next person, and we think that we can get away with sinning, as long as no one sees, as long as no one gets hurt.
But we can’t. The more we lie to ourselves, the farther we get from God, and the worse our sinfulness grows. Solomon may have been the wisest king who ever lived, but even Solomon fell into sin’s trap.
Over the course of many years, and many wives, Solomon forgot his prayer of dedication. He forgot to maintain the posture of prayer, kneeling before God in humility and focused on God alone. He forgot to praise God only, and he forgot to ask forgiveness. The beautiful temple he had built to be God’s resting place, a place where anyone could worship, where everyone who sought God could find God, that temple would be destroyed.
But there is good news. There is still reason to declare “Gaudete! Rejoice!” Solomon’s prayer explains why. 18 “But will God indeed reside with mortals on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!” A building’s four walls cannot limit God’s presence. God cannot be boxed in. God’s greatest desire is to be in loving relationship with us, and no building can contain God’s love.
As Solomon grew old, his 700 wives and 300 concubines led his heart away from God to worship idols. The LORD became angry with Solomon because Solomon’s heart was divided. (1 Kings 11:9-13) Because Solomon’s heart was divided, his kingdom would be divided. He convinced himself it wouldn’t matter, because it would all happen after he was dead, but he was wrong.
Hundreds of years would go by. Many would give up hope of ever seeing a son of David sitting on Israel’s throne, despite God’s promises. But one day, in the little town of Nazareth, a young girl whose father was a descendant of David would receive a visit from an angel, who would tell her an amazing thing. “Stop being afraid. God has found favor with you, and you will bear a son, and his name will be Immanuel, God with us.”
Next week, we will skip ahead in The Story. We will take Chapter 22 out of order, so that once again we can marvel at the miraculous birth of Christ our Savior, the One who came to save us from our sins. The One who offers forgiveness to all who trust in him. The One who hears us when we pray, who heals our brokenness and takes away our sin. The One who is Immanuel, God with us. Thanks be to God.
 Garrett Galvin, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2559