1 Samuel 16:1-13
"Who Would Have Thought"
On this final Sunday of the liturgical year – a Sunday which we call “Christ the King” – we ask
ourselves a question: Who would have thought?
Who would have thought that a little shepherd boy could be king? Certainly Samuel never
would have thought it. One day, the Lord called Samuel and instructed him to pay a visit to a
cat named Jesse in the little town of Bethlehem. There, he would find the one whom God had
ordained to be predecessor to Saul as the next king of Israel.
When we think of king, what sort of person might fill those shoes? Well, it would be a man
of course. Further, it should be a man born of royal lineage. It should be a man of stature, age
maturity, and wisdom. It should be a man who could wage war against his enemies, and who
could defend the borders of his kingdom. It should be a man who possesses that outward quality
about him which exudes power, strength, and might. When Samuel thought of king, this
was surely some of his criteria. But God’s call to the house of Jesse just didn’t square.
For one thing, although Jesse appears to have been a prosperous farmer and a man of some
standing in his community, he was not of royal lineage. He was the grandson of Ruth and Boaz.
Jesse was the father of eight sons. As the story is recorded in 1st Samuel 16, Samuel arrives at
Jesse’s place and the parade begins. Jesse marches out his first son Eliab. He’s not a royal son,
but he obviously has the outward credentials – eldest; tall and strapping; handsome in a “kingly”
sort of way; oozing with that royal moxie; looking like he could hold his own against any earthly
adversary. Samuel takes one look at Eliab and thinks to himself: “Yeah, this must be the guy.”
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, be-
cause I have rejected him….” Then out comes Abinadab; not as old, but in every other way a
prince. For a second time, the Lord tells Samuel this is not the one. Next in line is Shammah.
Again, no dice. Four more sons file by until finally, the parade is over. Samuel is no doubt growing a little frustrated
as he says to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these. Are all your sons here?” “Well,” Jesse replies in effect, “All the sons that count.
Now there is another out in the fields, my youngest. But he’s just a little shepherd boy.” Samuel will not give up the search
until he’s seen all the sons. So he asks Jesse to bring David in. We’re given a brief description of David as ruddy from days under the hot sun;
yet having beautiful eyes, and handsome. We can’t know all that went on in Samuel’s mind, but the reaction to the presence
of this most unlikely candidate for king is immediate. Samuel perceives the voice of the Lord saying to him: “Rise and anoint him;
for this is the one.” Samuel does as God instructs, “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David…” and the rest is history.
David goes on to become the greatest king of Israel, and the little town of Bethlehem where he was discovered came to be called “the city of David.”
But who would have thought?” As we’ve said before, God is certainly full of surprises.
An even bigger surprise was yet to come some ten centuries later when a series of announcements heralded the coming arrival of another king;
a king who would be a far greater king than David. First, there comes an announcement to a young maiden named Mary,
of no particular account, who lived in the backwater town of Nazareth. An angel named Gabriel visits her with stunning news
that we’ll talk about in more detail next week: “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son….
He will be great and will be called 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.” Who would have thought?
Next comes an equally surprising announcement to a man – a common carpenter by trade
named Joseph – who is engaged to Mary, but with whom he had not engaged sexually. An angel
of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid
to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a
son (who) will save his people from their sins.” Who would have thought?
Months later, wise men whom we call the magi receive an announcement and an invitation
to search for someone. Scripture doesn’t give us the specifics of that announcement, but they
arrive in the courts of King Herod with a question which greatly troubled the monarch: “Where
is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and
have come to pay him homage.” Herod immediately consults with his own wise men to find out
more about this other king, and where he could be found. “They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea;
for so it has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’” A baby born in obscurity, in a small town,
destined to become the ruler of Israel? Who would have thought?
Then there is a late-breaking announcement to “shepherds living in the fields, keeping
watch over their flock by night”; perhaps the very same fields which little David shepherded
some one thousand years earlier. An angel stands before them and says, “I am bringing you
good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find a child wrapped in bands
of cloth and lying in a manger.” Wait just a second. A Savior? The long-anticipated anointed
one? The Lord? Wrapped in rags instead of robes? Lying in a feeding stall of cattle and goats?
Who would have thought?
They all must have wondered to themselves – from Samuel the prophet/priest, to Jesse the
Bethlehemite and father of eight sons, to a run-of-the-mill maiden named Mary, to a laboring
carpenter named Joseph, to wise men from the east, to other wise men in the court of King
Herod, to shepherds in the fields outside the city of David – all were surely questioning what
God was up to. Yet all found that God does not act in ways which are in accord with our
expectations. God instead acts in surprising, even stunning ways; well off the radar screens of us
humans who would like to believe we have God’s trajectory totally figured out.
On this Christ the King Sunday prior to the start of the season of preparation we call Advent,
we ponder that God is, indeed, full of surprises; that God is always doing things which cause us
to scratch our heads and ask, “Who would have thought?” In God’s way is a sense of wonder; a
sense of mystery; a sense of expectation and of the unexpected. I suggest that these are things
which have been lost through the crass commercialization of what for Christians should be a sacred season.
It‘s clear that we’ve in large part lost that sense of childlike, wide-eyed wonder which should
characterize such a time as this. Instead of pondering the mystery of the incarnation of God in
the Baby Jesus, our eyes glaze over, given instead to a flurry of worldly activity which has forced
the Christ Child right off the radar screen of God’s stunning, surprising and unexpected ways. In
a culture which no longer embraces mystery, but rather worships at the altar of empiricism and
provability, the old, old story of God’s angels bending near the earth, of a virgin birth, of
announcements to wise men and shepherds, have become for many the stuff of fantasy and ridicule.
The Christmas season itself has lost its quality of expectantly awaiting the unexpected.
Think about how routine and mundane we’ve made this sacred time of year. Decorating our
homes, buying gifts, planning and preparing meals, finding the money to fund it all, stressing to
the degree that we can’t wait until it’s all over, year after year after year. These have assumed
center stage of a holiday the secular world is hesitant to call “Christmas” anymore. Decorating,
gifting, families and friends gathering for meals; these are all good things. But we Christians –
who of all people should know better – have our priorities all out of whack. We’ve exchanged
the old story of God’s surprises and mystery for a new story which makes the Christmas season
predictable and prosaic; devoid of mystery; bereft of the element of surprise. Who would have
Over the course of the next few weeks, in this traditional time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth,
we will seek to recapture the surprise, mystery and joy of what God has done, and what God continues to do.
On this Christ the King Sunday, let’s commit ourselves to exploring what’s Christ’s reign means in our lives.
Let’s reopen ourselves to God’s ways which surprise us and delight us. From a shepherd boy anointed to be king of a great nation, to the son
of a carpenter and a peasant girl anointed to be King of the universe, to the ways God continues
to work through the least and the last expected…… who would have thought?