Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Dear Friends in Christ,
One of the most humbling parts of the Christmas season for Marilyn and me (and I’m sure Pastor Mike and Jessica would agree with this) is the overwhelming generosity that pastors so often receive from members and friends of the congregations they serve. Among some of my favorite items we’ve received over the years are a number of Nativity sets that we love to display in our home each Christmas season. There’s the very fancy and expensive one that we received from our former congregation in Naples, FL as a going-away gift. There’s the one that opens up to reveal the holy family nestled in Bethlehem’s stable and another one that plays a little song. We have large manger sets, medium sized ones, and very tiny and delicate ones. And all of these sets feature the key players in the Christmas story, namely, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, while some of them also add the shepherds and Wise Men. But there is one figure who is missing in all of them that I really wish was included, though I understand why he isn’t for he was not present that night. The truth of the matter is this individual lived some 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, and yet his name still shows up in the Christmas story. In Luke 2:4 we read: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” So David is the one I’m talking about.
Now why would I want to talk about David on this Sunday that finds us just 3 days removed from Christmas? My reason is simple. Because I believe that David reminds us more than anyone else in the Bible just how far God will go to be our Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Let me show you what I mean.
Let’s take a quick look at the life of David. And I’d like to begin with a look at David the persecuted. Life was not always easy for David. He was the youngest of 8 sons, which was probably pretty challenging in and of itself. His father’s name was Jesse and they lived in the town of Bethlehem. Well, one day a prophet by the name of Samuel showed up at Jesse’s house to anoint the next king of Israel. Samuel had been told by God that this future king was one of Jesse’s sons; Samuel just didn’t know which one. So Jesse proudly paraded his 7 oldest boys before the prophet, and while Samuel thought that some of them looked like kingly material, God made it very clear to him that none of them was his choice. So he asked Jesse if he had any other sons. And Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.” Now the Hebrew word that is translated “youngest” there is not very complimentary. The Hebrew word is hakaton. Kind of sounds like you’re clearing your throat. The English equivalent to hakaton would be r-u-n-t, runt. You see, before David was King David, before he was the slayer of giants, writer and singer of psalms, and conqueror of kingdoms, he was Davey. You can almost hear his older brothers saying, “Whose turn is it to watch Davey today?” “I watched him yesterday!” “I watched him the day before.” “I hate watching him because he follows me everywhere I go.” Davey was the runt of the family. Not exactly the favorite. Not exactly respected.
But then came the time when David did the seemingly impossible, and you know the story well. He defeated the Philistine giant Goliath with his trusty slingshot and just like that, David was catapulted to star status in Israel. Well, about that time David, who was a fine musician, was given a place in the court of Saul, the king, to play soothing music for Saul who had a real problem with bad moods. But when Saul heard the rave reviews about David, he became insanely jealous of him. Twice he tried to pin David to the wall with his spear. But each time David escaped. And rather than wait around for a third time, David fled from the presence of Saul and he spent the next 10 years of his life running and hiding from him.
So David was persecuted. Now you might think, “Well, that’s interesting and that hakaton thing was pretty neat, but what in the world does all this have to do with Christmas?” Well, I’m getting to that. Just be patient and bear with me as we move on to my 2nd point. Having just looked at David the persecuted, we now want to turn our attention to David the paradox. David was often times one David one day and another David the next. He had different sides, different personalities. He was a hodgepodge of emotions.
For example, when David went out to fight Goliath, we see a young man just brimming with confidence and trust in God. As Goliath mocked and trash-talked this runt of a human being, David gave it right back. He said, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.” That’s confidence, isn’t it?
But David wasn’t always that confident in the Lord. For example, in Ps. 13 we find this slayer of giants crying out to God in desperation. He says, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” So sometimes David’s relationship with God was hot and sometimes it was cold.
Another paradox we see in David comes from a time when he encountered some opposition from a very wealthy fellow by the name of Nabal. David and his band of fighting men had been providing protection out in the wilderness for Nabal’s shepherds and sheep. And David was hoping to receive some sort of remuneration for that, perhaps some provisions for his men, but Nabal refused. So David’s initial reaction to his men was: “Put on your swords, fellas. We’re going to go and teach this Nabal fellow a thing or two about common courtesy.”
Contrast that with another time when David ran into opposition, only this time from his son, Absalom, who led a revolt against David that forced him to flee for his life. And yet when David’s men and Absalom’s men became engaged in a battle, David felt nothing but pity for his son and gave specific instructions that even if the opportunity to kill Absalom arose, his life should be spared.
Now I could go on and on like this if time permitted, sharing with you one contrast after another that existed in David. But again, you’re probably thinking, “Well, all this is nice to know, Pastor Meyer, but why are we studying David just a few days before Christmas?” I’m getting real close to answering that question for you, but first we need to look at one more side of David. We’ve talked about David the persecuted and David the paradox. Now we want to look at David the pitiful.
Two names are indelibly associated with David. You know what they are? Goliath, the champion warrior of the Philistines, and Bathsheba, the bathing beauty of Jerusalem. In both stories a giant falls. In the first story, the giant is Goliath. In the second one, the giant is David.
You see, by the time we get to the story of Bathsheba David is a giant in his own right. He’s no longer the runt of Jesse’s household. He’s no longer the harp-strummer in the court of King Saul. Rather, he is now the king of Israel and things are going well. Jerusalem is strong; the nation is expanding; and the people are prosperous. But David has one glaring weakness, and that weakness shines through while his army is out on the battlefield defending him and his kingdom. David should have been with them, but for some reason that Scripture does not reveal he chose to stay behind. And with time on his hands and power in his grasp, this giant of Israel was felled, not by an enemy sword or spear, not by a conspiracy within his own palace, but by lust that consumed his heart. That lust led David down a slippery slope of adultery, lies, deceit, cover-ups, and finally murder.
Now we look at that chapter of David’s life and shake our heads in wonder. We think, “Is this the same David who wrote the 23rd Psalm? Is this the same David who was once described as a man after God’s own heart? Is this the same David who was once willing to fight the giant when no one else would? Is this the same David who could handle the rage of an enemy army and withstand the rage of the jealous king Saul, but could not control the rage of lust within his own heart?”
You know, as we’re asking those questions about David, wouldn’t it be fair and appropriate to ask them about ourselves? For don’t we all have chapters in our lives that could be described as pretty pitiful, times when we fell, moments when we succumbed to temptation? Aren’t there some pages in the scrapbooks of our lives that we wish weren’t there and that we hope nobody ever finds out about? Is there anyone among us here today who can honestly say, “You know, I have no regrets. I’ve lived about as perfect a life as anyone can.” Doubtful, right? The point I’m getting at is that David’s story is really our story.
We too can be paradoxical, can’t we? Hot one minute and cold the next. So full of faith one day that we feel we can conquer any giant that dares to cross our path but then so full of doubt the next day. And some of us know what it’s like to be persecuted, to have spears thrown at us. Oh, maybe not spears of wood, but spears of abuse or hatred or gossip. And maybe some of you know exactly what that Hebrew word hakaton means, what it’s like to be the runt of the family or the runt at school or the runt in your work place, the one who is always looked down upon and never respected or appreciated.
And it’s at times like that that we need to know more than any other time, “Is Jesus really our Immanuel? Is he really ‘God with us’? I know he’s with me when I’m looking good and feeling good and things are sailing along smoothly in my life. But is he with me when my friends walk out on me and I feel completely alone? Is he with me when I do what even I can’t believe I did?” The answer to those questions is found in the very first verse of the New Testament. Matthew 1:1 says, “This is the family history of Jesus Christ. He came from the family of David.” I don’t know about you, my friends, but in the light of all we’ve learned about David this morning I think I would have kept that little bit of information a secret. Would you have gone around telling everybody, “Hey, I’m related to David. I’m related to that adulterer. I’m related to that murderer.” Usually we try to keep information like that about our family tree hush-hush, don’t we? But Jesus didn’t. Instead, he says, “I’ll tell you how far I’ll go to be identified with humanity. I’ll find that one person who stands for every human being who has ever lived – who is as earthy as they come, who battled with right and wrong, good and evil, lust and love. And I’ll be connected to him.”
So, are you the runt? He’s connected to you. Are you persecuted? He’s connected to you. Are you paradoxical at times, tough to figure out? He’s connected to you. He’s your Immanuel. Or, as I’ve stated in my sermon title, he is your perfect Christmas friend. And perhaps no other passage of the Bible states this more clearly for us than Heb. 2:11 which says: “Jesus and the people he makes holy all belong to the same family. That is why he isn’t ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.” Isn’t that great? No matter what you’ve done, no matter how far you may have fallen, no matter how greatly you may have sinned, Jesus still wants to be your Immanuel, your faithful brother and friend. I pray that that is one offer that none of us here today will ever pass up. Perhaps you don’t feel worthy. Perhaps you can’t wrap your brain around such amazing love. And that’s ok because none of us is worthy and God doesn’t ask us to understand it all. All he asks is that we receive this good news by faith, that we receive it with a believing and trusting heart – so that all that Jesus did and all that he wants to do as our Immanuel will be ours to enjoy both for time and for all eternity. Amen.