4th Sunday of Advent – December 24, 2017

A beloved uncle of mine was well known for his aphorisms. One of his favorite sayings was the “Do Better Talk.” When a family member, friend, or employee failed in her or his responsibilities, my uncle would give the person a “Do Better Talk” – a friendly, but firm encouragement to avoid willful failure in the future. At the conclusion of the mild scolding, he would say, “It’s time to do better.”

Today’s first reading contains a “Do Better Talk” from God. The first reading dates to the period of time when King David was centralizing political power in Jerusalem. He had managed to take power from Saul, his predecessor. He quelled a rebellion, and established himself as the unrivaled King of a united kingdom.

At the end of a long civil strife, David was understandably grateful to God for the period of relative peace and prosperity that ensued. Today’s selection begins at the time when David intended to demonstrate his gratitude to God by building a permanent dwelling for the Ark of the Covenant.

Replacing the Ark’s tent with a permanent Temple seemed like the logical and pious thing to do. At first, even the prophet Nathan approved. Having received a prophetic word from God in a dream, however, Nathan forbade David from building a Temple for the Ark.

Through Nathan, God reminded David of all that God had done: choosing him from among his brothers, anointing him King, leading him in battle, and delivering victory to him. God went on to say that God’s favor to David would continue unabated. God would establish a dynasty for David that would last forever. (2 Sam. 7:16)

God, through the prophet Nathan, gave David a “Do Better Talk.” David was surprisingly guileless when he concocted the idea of building a Temple as an expression of magnanimity toward God. God was understandably disappointed that David thought he could do God a favor by building a permanent dwelling for the Ark.

David’s presumptuousness stands as a warning to us. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we’re doing a favor for God when, in fact, we have failed in our responsibilities.

We are doing God no favors by showing up to church once a week, counting down the minutes, and running away from our fellow believers as quickly as possible. We do God no favors by congratulating ourselves over committing no mortal sins, when our hearts are full of jealousy, vindictiveness, and uncharitable thoughts. God is not impressed when we reassure ourselves that, “At least I’m not as bad as some people are.”

This final week of Advent is a “Do Better Talk” from God. Three weeks ago, I mentioned to you that Advent is a short refresher course in faith. In order to have a faith that lasts a lifetime, we have to cultivate an awareness of God on a daily basis. That daily awareness of God’s presence should inspire us to on-going repentance and profound gratitude to God.

Today, we find ourselves at the conclusion of Advent. We’ve completed the refresher course in faith, but it will do us very little good if we don’t sustain those practices of awareness of God, repentance, and gratitude throughout our entire lifetime. It’s time to do better.

It is not possible to be morally perfect by avoiding all sin. It is not possible to have a faith that never waivers. It is certainly not possible to understand God’s will completely. Fortunately, God expects from us nothing more than what is actually possible.

God expects that we remain mindful of God’s blessings. God expects that we remain mindful of the needs of the poor. God expects that we develop a lifelong habit of forgiveness. God expects us to trust in God’s will, even though doing so can be a severe challenge at times. God also expects us to pay attention to the daily reminders of our unavoidable imperfections.

It is not possible to have any degree of perfection in this world, but it’s always possible to do better.

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