Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
When our university students decided to put on an English Style Country dance, I knew that the odds were pretty decent that my two left feet would be exposed. So it was that, throughout the course of the evening, I may have stepped on Kalia’s toes more than just once or twice—and that literally, if not also figuratively.
Even so, it was a lovely evening, I thought, and a wonderful opportunity, among other things, to reflect on the beauty of rhythm. Something quite profound happens when one’s movements are carried out in sequence with another’s. When it’s done well, it says a thing or two about who we are as people. Chief among them, I think, is that we aren’t meant to be alone, moving about in isolation from everyone else. There’s a special kind of joy that comes along with dancing exceptionally well with someone else. If you’re the best around, we’ll even pay money to see it, because it offers a great window into what it means to be human.
Before the fall into sin, Adam was right “in step” with our Lord’s will. He walked the walk, and he moved just as God moved. They had a good thing goin’ in the garden, and it was nothing short of a divine dance. There was a clear leader, yes, and both parties knew that was for the best. Even better than evening and morning, darkness and light, it was the most beautiful rhythm that creation had to offer.
But when this particular dance was busted up, we had no other choice but to trip over our own two feet. Sin, at its essence, is the insistence that we do our own thing, that we march to the beat of our own drum. Dancing amid the tree of life would turn into dancing around golden calves, and bigger bank accounts, and more alcohol, and having nicer things than the next guy. Keeping in step with God’s gift of sexuality would turn into chasing after lust and prancing around at pride parades.
The whole history of salvation, you might say, is God’s plan of restoring his sacred dance; to get all of his creatures to move with him like they once did long ago. No more foolish, solo performances that end only in death, but a creation fully restored with divine harmony. If you want a good picture of what that looks like, it’s all over the end of the book of psalms. Here’s just one example: “let the children of Zion rejoice in her king; let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre” (Ps. 149:2-3).
It’s very fitting, then, that our Old Testament reading tonight comes from one of the richest and most elaborate liturgical processions that the entire Bible has to offer—this whole business of King David bringing in the ark. Because when King David “dance[d] before the Lord with all his might,” it was, on the one hand, a kind of return to the good ol’ days, a throwback to paradise lost. A rhythm was restored that could only happen if God first chose to draw near. We heard that David was even willing to expose his nakedness—something that may strike us as totally inappropriate and something that did indeed bother Michal very much—as yet another gesture of reliving the innocence that was once the case back in Eden.
At the same time, however, and even more so, David’s dancing points forward to a much greater celebration to come. Long before there was “Dancing with the Stars,” David was given a chance to dance with the Star—the bright morning star, of course. And because of that, it was on this special occasion that David the king also started to do all sorts of priestly stuff, too: he wears vestments (the ephod), he offers up offerings, he handles the ark, and he blesses the people in the name of the Lord.
All that to say: what we do in the liturgy still matters. We’re not the ones leading this dance, and our movements should reflect that. When we’re handling the things of the Lord, we want to be in step with our Lord’s first actions toward us. There’s a rhythm in place, and it’s a beautiful thing, because it communicates how our Lord chooses to draws near.
David dancing is humanity dancing. It’s exactly what happens when God’s presence comes among us, and decides to take the lead once again.
Or is it just a coincidence that just as David went to get the ark on a hill, so also does Mary go quickly to the hill country? And that just as David asks “how can the ark of God come under my care?” (2 Sam. 6:9), so also does Elizabeth ask, “why has this happened that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Lk. 1:43). And that just as there was shouting before the ark, so also does Elizabeth proclaim with a great shout, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”? And that just as David was leaping and dancing before the Lord, so also does John the Baptist leap in the womb for joy?
Dear friends in Christ, there’s a new holy of holies in town, and it’s in Mary’s womb. Her very body is now the vessel that houses God’s presence among humanity. Or you could put it this way: “In her womb this truth was shown: God was there upon His throne.”
And you know what this means, don’t you? It means that it’s time to dance again! God is drawing near in human flesh in order to save all those of human flesh, passing through every stage of human existence so that he might save every stage of human existence.
So of course John the Baptist is going to bust a move in response to this already in utero (“move in a lively manner, skip about, dance [frolic and kick your heels kind-of-thing!]”). God has come to save people—body and soul people—whether those people happen to be inside the womb, or those people happen to be outside of the womb. God is restoring his sacred dance with all of humanity, and that goes from womb to tomb, so John can’t help but be caught up in the beat.
Yes, the Christmas season may not always have you feeling like jumping for joy, like John did. We may not always recognize God’s presence among us in the ways that we would like.
But when John the Baptist did his dancing, it wasn’t because of what he was able to put together on his own accord. How much, exactly, did he know at this point? What was he able to ascertain about who he was, what was happening, and the road ahead? Instead of any focus on John’s intellectual aptitude or sense of discernment or anything of the sort, we’re simply told that when the word came, he leaped for joy (exultation, gladness, celebration)—no strings attached.
So it is that, even if you find yourself struggling to sense the significance of the season, weighed down by much else on the mind, charting through too many changes and chances of life, the presence of our Lord brings about a kind of joy within us that’s well beyond our mere reason and senses, far greater than whatever you happen to be feeling about Christmas right now.
When David did his dancing, Michal was offended. Not right now. Not…in this way. Not…with the current family situation. Not with the finances the way that they are. Not with my health issues. No, it just doesn’t seem right.
But that, my friends, is not how this dance works. If you look only at the disharmony around you, you’ll soon start to think that this whole Christmas thing isn’t really working.
Look instead…at the manger, and then take a good look at the cross—and especially those wounds—and then look at the empty tomb. And then, repeat. And then, repeat again. That’s your rhythm right there. And even if it be the case that our Lord’s steps for us in this life just don’t seem quite right, he has indeed drawn near to you. He’s still the One leading this dance, still guiding, still directing, never letting go, no matter what. Every bite of bread and body, every sip of wine and blood—he’ll move right with us, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, all throughout this vale of tears until that day, as the psalmist puts it, when our mourning is turned into dancing, forever.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.