Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 19, 2010

2010.12.19 A Life Giving Christmas: “Love . . . Gotta Have It”

Central United Methodist Church

A Life Giving Christmas:

“Love . . . Gotta Have It”

Pastor David L. Haley
The 4th Sunday of Advent

December 19th, 2010

 

The mood of this, the fourth and final Sunday of Advent is, “Wait . . . Wait . . . We’re almost there.” Ordinarily a word spoken to people before the start of a race, or to people about to get their pictures taken, it might also be spoken to children (or adults) running downstairs on Christmas morning to open presents, or congregations ready to dive headlong into Christmas.  After all, Christmas is not a race (or is it?)

Today, we also come to the fourth and final sermon in our series, A Life Giving Christmas. Today, in answer to the question, “What do I most want for Christmas,” the answer of every one of us would be, “I want to be love and be loved.”       

      The point of the series has been that when we are usually asked what we want for Christmas, we’ve been set up by our culture to answer in a materialistic way, as if there is some “thing” out there which will finally make us happy. But deep down we know that there is no “thing”, nothing that we can buy, that will make us happy, at least not for long.

      What truly makes us happy is to be found at a much deeper level, a spiritual level, and so during Advent we have looked at four answers – hope, peace, joy, and love – which, if we experience them in our lives, indeed make us truly happy. It is one thing, as Christians, however, to believe that God gave us hope, peace, joy, and love in Christ; it is another thing to appropriate and experience them in our lives.

      Furthermore, we believe that hope, peace, joy, and love should be not only for us, but for everyone, especially those beyond the walls of our congregation. So each week we have asked, not only how can we find hope, peace, joy, and love for ourselves, but what can we do to bring hope, peace, joy, and love to others? 

      Today, we ask such questions regarding love. 

      In everyday language, love has become difficult to talk about, because it has become diluted from overuse.  We might say, “I love this drink,” “I love my new car,” and, of course, “I love my wife.”  I like (not love) that commercial where a guy is going on about how much he loves a soft drink, and then his wife asks, “And what do you love about me?”, and he says, “Ah . . . ah . . . ah . . . your hair?”

      In fact, when we talk about love, the love talked about in Scripture and demonstrated by Jesus, we’re not talking about romantic love.  What we’re talking about is sacrificial love, which seeks the good of the other regardless of our feeling about them.  It’s this kind of unconditional love, called agape love in the New Testament, that all of us seek for ourselves, and at our best, seek to show toward others.

When I went for my retreat in August at St. John’s Abbey in MN, I stayed in a small, dorm like room in the Abbey Guest House.  My first thought was, “This is great: I’ve got everything I need! Bed, desk, shower, chair and reading lamp, picture window looking out over the lake, NO TV. It was nice – for about two days.  Then the thought crept in, wait, is this how I want to wind up?  No wife, no kids, no friends, nobody, living in a small room all alone?  And the answer is . . . “No.”

        While God knows there are times we all enjoy solitude, deep down, even more, we want to be loved. So does every single person out there: young, old, homeless, mentally ill, in prison, in nursing homes.  We want to be loved by significant others, by families, by friends; and we want to feel loved by God.

At its heart, this is what the Christmas story is about, it’s a story about love:  the love of a man and a woman, Joseph and Mary – for each other, an experience common to all loving couples, and their love for their child, Jesus, an experience common to all parents. 

      But it’s more than that:  It’s about the love this baby had, when he became a man, not only for his friends, his nation, his religion, and his people — but for all sorts of people: insiders and outsiders, rich and poor, righteous and sinners, fishermen and lawyers and tax collectors and prostitutes, people no one else cared about, and sometimes hated.  It was a love so courageous and so passionate, it cost him his life, and carried him to a cross, where his love was most fully demonstrated, as he prayed for his persecutors even as he died.

      But it is more even than that: Christians believe this story is a story about God and God’s love for us, passionate and unconditional. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,” the Bible says (John 3:16). And to prove it, this is how God’s love comes to life: not in imperial edicts or religious rituals – but in a human being, in the birth of a baby himself born an outcast, first revealed to outcasts, lowly shepherds.

      In our cynicism, it’s too much, too amazing, too wonderful to believe, but this is what we celebrate at Christmas, when we ponder the mystery of God’s passionate and unconditional love for the world, for you and for me, whoever we are, whatever we have done, cynical or sentimental though we may be.

        God’s hope, I believe, is that as we sit here, we might conclude that the best thing that we can do, the best way we can live the rest of our lives, is to throw our lot in with this One born in Bethlehem, and love as He loved, love as we are loved, passionately and unconditionally, across all the barriers that divide us.  (For the preceding section, I am indebted to John Buchanan, Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, for his December 24, 2007 sermon, “Love.”)

      This is why we welcome everyone to our service, and this is why we welcome everyone to the Lord’s Table.  It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, black, white, or brown, male or female, gay or straight, able or disabled.  This is the nature of God’s love, and it is this same love we desire to reflect in our church and in our lives.

        What might we do as a congregation do to show God’s love to those often forgotten?  How might we reach out to the lonely in our church and community?  With whom will they celebrate on Christmas Eve, or eat on Christmas Day? Would we be willing to open our homes to others?  How about our church home?  I know it’s too late this year, but how about a Christmas or New Year’s Day Open House – say in the Log Cabin – for those who have nowhere to go?

      I never thought I would say this, but I have to admit I miss working with the homeless, which I did in my previous congregation. These are people who have faced what would be for most of us our worst nightmares, and yet they’re still walking and talking.  When you think of all the things society tells us we need to be happy, they don’t have most of them. And yet – perhaps for just these reasons – there’s a gratitude often found among them that we who are affluent sometimes lack. As an example of sharing God’s love, let’s look at what another congregation, First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, does each Christmas to show love to the homeless.

      [Video]

      In his book “Tuesdays with Morrie” (Doubleday, 1997), Mitch Albom quotes Morrie Schwartz: “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

The story of Christmas is just this: it is a story about God, about life, and about love, a story that invites each one of us to open our hearts to loving God and loving each other, and especially those no one else loves. This would be the best gift we could ever give or receive.  To paraphrase St. Paul: “Hope, peace, joy, and love; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

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