(2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Romans 16:25-27)
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
A couple weeks ago, I confessed to having to sit through a number of Miss America pageants because I’m blessed with three sisters. As if that blessing weren’t enough, God blessed me with the responsibility of raising three daughters! I’ve come to realize that daughters bring unique interests and perspectives like sisters. The way they play, the way they dress, and the way they think are definitely different than the ways of boys. If it weren’t for my daughters, perhaps I would have never had the opportunity to sit down and actually read the story of the “The Frog Prince.” What an interesting little story! Allow me to read the story to you:
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess who had a golden ball. One day, while playing in the garden, the ball fell into a pond. She was very upset and did not know what to do. While she sat there crying helplessly, a frog hopped out of the pond and asked, “Why are you crying, little princess?” She told him about her golden ball. The ugly frog said, “I can help you get your ball but what will you give me in return?” “I will give you anything you want!” promised the princess. The frog immediately dived into the water and fetched the ball for her. The princess was very happy. The frog reminded her, “Remember that you promised me anything. Well, I want to be your friend, eat from your plate, and sleep in your palace!” The princess hated the idea but she agreed and ran back to the palace.
The next morning, the princess found the frog waiting for her. He said, “I have come to live in your palace.” Hearing this, the princess ran to her father, crying. When the kind king heard about the promise, he told her, “A promise is a promise and you must keep your word. You must let the frog stay here.” The princess was very angry but she had no choice and let the frog stay. He ate from her plate during dinner and asked the princess to take him to her bed at night. The princess picked him up angrily and threw him to the floor.
In a flash, the frog turned into a handsome prince! He told the princess that he had actually been under the spell of a wicked witch. The princess fell in love with the prince. They were married and lived happily ever after.
So it’s a story about a princess who finds her prince and over the years I’ve found that girls are drawn to ANY story with princesses and princes! But this princess isn’t all too sweet of a princess. No, this princess is somewhat selfish and vain…as I suppose most princesses are known to be! Yet this princess also has the good sense to listen to her father. The king gently reminds her of her duty to keeping a promise. She obeys her father, keeps her promise, and is surprised to find the frog to be a handsome prince after all. You see, this little story uses a quaint premise to teach a lesson about the importance of keeping promises. When we keep our promises, we may be rewarded with unusual surprises.
At the heart of this week’s readings is a similar lesson about promises and God keeping His promises. When we set out on our Advent journey four weeks ago, we began with a reading from the Isaiah. The prophet was asking God to “tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence” (Isa 64:1). Isaiah argued that because his people had become overwhelmed by their sin, God needed to come in full majesty and reclaim His beloved people. God needed to save His people from themselves. Why? Isaiah explains, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa 64:8). What bold reasoning! God needed to save His people because they are His creation. Isaiah holds God responsible for His creation! Whatever trouble His creation gets into is only possible because God allows it. We are the clay and He is the potter. If we are flawed it is only because God designed us to be that way and underlying this bold plea is a sure faith in God’s promise made to Noah. Recall that God was angry with His creation once before. God wiped the world almost completely clean because of sin. But God chose not to wipe out His creation completely. More importantly, God made a promise to never destroy His creation again with Noah. This is why Isaiah can make such a bold plea with God. He knows God won’t destroy His creation, only shake it up and set it in right relationship again. He rests on God’s promise and boldly holds God responsible for maintaining and shaping His creation.
Four weeks later and we return to God’s promise. Just as He promised to never destroy His creation, God also promised to never leave His creation. God is invested in His creation. God can neither destroy nor abandon His creation. God must mold the clay, kneading it into pleasing pottery. How does God set about fulfilling this promise? By sending the Son! In just a few short days, we will be celebrating the birth of Jesus, God’s beloved Son. God answers Isaiah’s plea to “tear open the heavens and come down” and comes to us a man with humble beginnings. No doubt this wasn’t exactly how Isaiah envisioned God coming down to us. Perhaps with a little more majesty, a little more radiant glory! Nonetheless, it is how God comes to us, in fulfillment of promises made to the prophets of old. God honors His promise by sending the Son.
The reading from Samuel helps establish the nature of God’s promise. King David was wrestling with the decision to build a temple for housing God. The prophet Nathan gave David God’s blessing for such a project only to later recant the blessing. God explained to Nathan that David’s efforts to build a temple were unnecessary. God promised to stay with David wherever he went. To ensure such a promise, God further promised David that his descendants would forever remain on the throne. Nathan declares on behalf of God, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16). David no longer needed to worry about building a temple to house God. A promised throne in turn promised God’s presence and support. David’s psalm for today simply reiterates the terms of this promise. David sings for the Lord, “I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand shall always remain with him, my arm also shall strengthen him” (Psa 89:20-21). David knew the presence of God in his life. David knew God’s “faithfulness and steadfast love” and sang of it often. The apostle Luke explains how Jesus’ birth fulfills God’s promise to David. He writes, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Luke pulls from ancient scripture and shows that Jesus is not only God’s Son but also comes from a lineage that God promised to reign on Earth forever. Jesus had both heavenly kinship as well as royal earthly kinship. God’s promise is fulfilled twofold: God drawn near and David’s eternal throne.
As we enter into the Christmas season, we ought to be mindful of how God always keeps promises. Over the last four weeks we have alertly and peacefully awaited the coming of Jesus. With Jesus’ birth comes God’s fulfilled promise. During this season let us reflect not only on how God keeps promises but also on the importance of our keeping the promises we make with each other. We live in a world that doesn’t value promises. Promises are shared and broken every day by far too many people. Why? Why is it so hard to keep promises anymore? It’s not what God does…God always keeps promises, as our readings for today help illustrate. Why can’t we be more like God and try to keep our promises as well?
We tell ourselves that we didn’t account for the unexpected to happen when we made the promises. We didn’t expect the necessary sacrifice needed for fulfilling the promises. We had good intentions of keeping the promises when we made them but life just happened. Are these good excuses for not keeping promises? Do they justify not keeping promises? NO! No, they do not! Promises are supposed to be kept! God keeps promises…why can’t we?! WE CAN! Sure, we can act like princesses who conveniently “forget” the promises we’ve made to the frogs in our lives. But, God, our father-king, will always remind us, “promises are promises.” It’s important to keep promises! When we don’t keep our promises, it conveys to people that we don’t value and appreciate them. It conveys selfishness and lack of character. It conveys that we believe we shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything to fulfill a promise. Who cares about the sacrifices other people make for us, right?! Well, wrong! We should care about the sacrifices others make for us and be willing to make sacrifices to fulfill promises. We lose trust in God, with each other, and with ourselves when we fail to keep promises.
As I reflected on promises and the necessity of keeping them this week, I came across a useful article by Royale Scuderi listing 5 tips to help keep promises. First, a promise is easier to keep if it is concrete and realistic. Unrealistic and ambiguous promises are very difficult to keep. One needs to know the exact expectations of the promise and accurately gauge whether the expectations are doable or not. There’s no sense in making a promise one can’t keep! Second, try to put promises in writing. Sure, promises aren’t contracts and won’t hold up in a court of law but getting them in writing helps to make them concrete with specific expectations. Third, keeping even the smallest of promises is important. They might not be difficult to keep. They might involve hardly any sacrifice. But keeping small promises establishes trust in relationships. As the military teaches, integrity is found in the details. If we keep the small promises, we’ll build a rapport with people so that when we make big promises and find ourselves unable to keep them then people are far more forgiving and understanding. Fourth, no matter what sacrifices are expected for keeping the promise, do them anyway! No one can predict the future. Promises add a small degree of certainty to the future though. Adapt to circumstances and make the necessary sacrifices. Finally, expect others to keep their promises as well. Hold others accountable for their promises. It helps maintain the value of the promises we make. These are 5 useful tips for keeping promises.
In sending His Son into our broken world, God conveys the high value he places on keeping promises. God wants to be in committed, trusting relationships with each of us. All of the healthy relationships we find ourselves in in life, whether with God or each other, expect some degree of trust to survive. Without trust, relationships quickly dissolve and fall apart. Without relationships, the world is a dark place of nothingness. God always keeps promises and brings light into our world. As David Nicholas remarked, “God’s promises are like the stars; the darker the night the brighter they shine.” In the days ahead, let us rejoice at how God did the impossible and came to us as a man through a virgin birth. Let us rejoice at how God brings light into our dark world. Finally, let us rejoice at how very much God values…a promise kept.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.