God's touch

2 Samuel 7:1-16
Psalm 89:2-29
Roman 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

The Touch of God

The power of the Most High will overshadow you.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

We begin today with King David's news for God in 2 Samuel, Chapter 7: "I have decided to build You a house." These are troubling words, to be sure. First, God already possesses a dwelling far beyond the King's capacity or authority to construct. "You will build me a house?!" God replies. "I am the One who establishes and disestablishes. I took you as a shepherd boy and gave you a great name among the great names of men." As Psalm 50 reminds us, "Thine are the cattle of a thousand hillsides and the beast of every forest. All the world is thine and the fullness thereof." Second, King David's offer only serves to remind himself and God that, if this house ought to be constructed, then shouldn't this have happened a long time ago and not take second place behind King David's palace? Third, this house, which equates to a dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant, coincides with David's own selfish interests. You see, some months before, upon discovering that the Ark was dangerous, that it was endowed with awesome and sublime power (one man had already fallen dead by touching it), it was placed in a nearby house to serve as a kind of protective "power station," so to speak, so that no one else would be "electrocuted." Later, however, King David learns that a Philistine family, Obed-Edom, was conspicuously blessed by the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in their home, and the King begins to hatch a plan: he will offer to build a Temple, nominally, to shelter the Ark, but, by the way, housing it nearer to David's own household and palace. God hears King David's offer .... and declines.

Meantime, in our Gospel reading this morning, an angel of God, the Archangel Gabriel, stands in a humble cave in Galilee, which in the eyes of the Jews was "the wrong side of the tracks." He greets an outcast — indeed, three times an outcast — for she is not a Jew in the eyes of Judeans; moreover, she is a girl and, therefore, much less than a man, much less a King; finally, she and her little family will soon be homeless itinerants, denied even a decent place to birth their child, and a despised child at that. For this child will instantly become a fugitive, fleeing murder, even infanticide, proceeding out, of all places, the household and palace of a Jewish King. God's angel fills the girl's humble cave with a brilliant radiance, and she hears these, unprecedented words, denied to Israel's greatest king: she is to build a dwelling place for God ... truly, to become the dwelling place of God.

Like Mary, the house of Obed-Edom was of no account in the eyes of royalty. Obed-Edom was of the city of Gath, of the hated Philistines. His name Edom marked him as descending from the disfavored Esau, not the favored Jacob/Israel. We might easily imagine that his house was no more than a shack by the roadside — a convenient place to store a dangerous box. Only a few months earlier, while transporting the Ark to David from the Philistines, David's servant, Uzzah, happened to touch the Ark and fell instantly dead to the ground. Attesting to the Ark's deadly power, it had been preceded during this solemn procession from the Philistines by gold images of tumors and mice, representing the plagues that befell the Philistines who also had drawn near to it. To place the Ark in Obed-Edom's house was precisely equivalent to visiting these plagues upon his family, who were now dispossessed of their home, commandeered by the equivalent of an Army Sergeant. The family's name Obed calls to mind the son of a Moabite mother and the grandson of Rahab the prostitute. Everything about this name and the circumstances now surrounding them communicates their lowliness, powerlessness.

Yet would God bless them. Unlike the mighty Philistines and unlike King David's royal emissary, Uzzah, they dwelt in harmony with the Ark, and prosperity surrounded the family. Why did they receive blessing when the rich and those who sat on thrones were cursed? Because their hearts were right. Having a heart for and with God has nothing at all to do with worldly power or social standing. Indeed, power and riches often lead one away from God and the dimming of a godly heart. After all, was not King David, famously, "a man after [God's] own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14). But receiving power and riches, he devolved into a man who was given to hatching plans: plans to seduce his neighbor's wife; plans to murder his most faithful, humble servant; and, plans, we we read this morning, to secure the Ark's blessing for himself. Indeed, when his own son attempted to depose him, seeking to commit patricide and regicide with one blow, David flees with the Ark to secure its magical powers of protection. As the Prophet Nathan charged him on the occasion of his earlier plots, "You are the man who has within his grasp every sheep in every pasture in every tribe of Israel, but would stoop to steal the one, little lamb that a beggar cherished and fed from his hand." Then, why doesn't the all-powerful David seize the Ark from Obed-Edom as he had seized Bathsheba from the helpless Uriah? Because David knew better than to touch the Holy Mountain of God with an impure heart. He recalled the Lord God's words to Moses: "And you shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, 'Take heed that you do not go up into the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death'" (Ex 19:12). Moses himself shook uncontrollably ascending the mountain (Deut 9:19). When Uzzah fell to the ground dead, no one asked why, for the holy things are not to be taken lightly, much less touched (Num 4:15).

God's touch? It is more powerful than a thousand suns ... yet precise and silent. Recall Michelangelo's painting of human creation, depicting the spark of life — or should we say the conflagration of life — passing from one solitary finger to another. And then survey all that the human mind and human imagination has created proceeding from that touch. Think of this planet teeming with life — nine million species, trillions raised to the power of trillions instances of organisms — beyond counting. Our planet home might well be named life for it is about life, unique in a universe of lifeless stones spinning in an empty void. Consider this vast, incomprehensible display, and you will begin to grasp the meaning of God's touch. One does not seek to be touched by the focal point of this most awesome energy, no more than one wanders into the potential field of a trillion-megawatt electrode. One does not approach God's Holy Mountain lightly, nor does one touch it until his or her heart is carefully prepared ... prepared so that is might be stretched to the limits of human capacity as Moses learned climbing Mt. Sinai. So infused was he with this divine energy that he had to wear a veil over his face lest anyone who saw this reflected glory be blinded by its radiance.

Yet, kneeling in a cave before a radiant angel, a fifteen-year-old girl prepares to be touched by God as no human being before or after could be touched. For God will dwell within her very person, fill every fiber and sinew and nerve of her small, delicate frame. And God will fill her soul and body to the limits of human capacity and then, in Bethlehem, touch the earth. And as He touches it, so great a shock is felt that the very DNA of every living thing is reset — no longer ordered to death, but now forever ordered to life and eternal life. And surrounding the manger is the faint fragrance of Eden.

Yes, it is true that David's son Solomon, the notorious idolater and seeker after pagan gods, would build a Temple. Yet, would Solomon's kingdom come crashing down, as the Philistines who had worshiped Dagon learned when they sought to house the Ark. Solomon's royal house would be destroyed. Eleven of the Tribes of Israel would be scattered and would finally disappear. Yet, after a fashion, David's house, as God had promised, would continue. Like Obed-Edom (whose name recalls the name of King's David's grandfather), David's line would be kept alive within the sacred vessels of humble and homeless Mary and Joseph, and in their royal child, born into homelessness, and who later would "have nowhere to lay His head." It was in and through such as these whom God would choose to dwell. And through Mary's pure and sacred body, He would enter our lifeworld changing it forever.

In time, He would depart from Nazareth announcing that the Kingdom of God has drawn near. And those who sought that Kingdom and drew near to it ... He healed and taught and prepared so that they might ascend His Holy Mountain. He seeks to prepare us. And, yes, He seeks to touch us. The demons who bowed down before Him, attesting His divine identity as no ever humans ever would (Mk 3:11), durst not touch Him. Tonight, His name is Emmanuel as He touches the earth.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.