The Love Of God Comes Near In Christ


For thousands of years, the Israelites awaited the day when the one would arrive who said those fateful words, "The Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, and proclaim the year of our Lord." These people…who had known what it was to live in devastation, to know what it was to live in exile, for some to be dragged off into servitude for generations and generations…waited. They awaited the expected one who would come and deliver them and who would bring them good news of release from all that which bound them. They waited, and they waited.

And they are now questioning John the Baptist, "Who are you, and what is this thing that you are doing baptizing people with water?" And he tells them, "I am the one who is preparing the way of the Lord. I am the one who will baptize you with water, but one who is coming after me will baptize you with the Spirit and with fire." For those of us with 21st century eyes, as Christians, we understand what that meant. We understand that that was God's love coming into the world in a whole new way, to put a spirit deep within our hearts as God had promised in the Old Testament, to help us to transform who we are in our inner being and to put us in a right relationship with God…quite literally, bringing us release from all those things which bind us. So when we hear these words from John at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, we see that with our 21st century eyes. And it does bring us a sense of peace and hope, and especially today, love…that God's love is revealed in Christ, the one who is coming.

God's love does come to us in many and various ways. How has God's love come to you in this last year? Has it come in enough ways to fill one of these little paper Advent bags I gave to the children this morning? Are there ways that God has touched you or helped you feel especially blessed? The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the child in the manger tells us that our lives will be filled with love and hope and joy and peace. And I, for one, have felt love come into my life in many ways this year. Sometimes it's just in the words of one of my children, like Luke saying, "Oh, Daddy, you're silly!" And the smile on his face, which was one of endearment and love, really touches my heart. Or to hear someone we know and love surprise us with words that we may not expect. For me, one of those instances was praying for a dear member of our congregation as she entered hospice care and having her say, "Pastor Steve, tell the church I'm praying for them because I know the church needs prayer." There, in her time of need, expressing her love for this congregation and this family of faith here. That touched me deeply at my core.

But how has love touched you this last year? And how might love touch you in this season of Advent? Christmas is only a week and a half away. It will be here soon. Where does that spark come from that starts to well up that Christmas joy and love in you? There's great delight in driving around and seeing the displays of light. Yesterday, the youth did some caroling around the area. I know how much love that can bring. I once was in a youth group that would go around and sing to shut-ins. And to have them just sit and smile, knowing that someone cared enough to come and to bring those Christmas carols and hymns to them at a time when they were feeling alone, that is certainly Christmas love. And it touched me many times in my youth growing up when I was able to participate.

But how do you feel that spark of God's love coming into your life at this time of the year? We set aside time to do things like sending out our cards, and that's a way of sending love. We do our Christmas shopping, thinking of those whom we love and care for, and trying to find that thing that will bring delight to their eyes…or at least satisfaction. We decorate our homes and we go out looking for Christmas trees or getting the tree out, going over those ornaments that we hang up every year. And many of them, if they're like the ornaments at my house, many of them have very special meaning, especially the ones that look the most ragged and worn and torn that my kids will one day say, "Daddy, why do we even have this? Why is this being kept in the box of special ornaments?" But in those ornaments are memories. In those ornaments are experiences of joy, but also love. And those, for me, tend to be the ornaments that were from my grandmother's tree or something that was made for me by someone I love. Will you experience love in going through those ornaments and gifts again as you decorate your homes? It's possible.

But one sure way that we can experience the love of God in this season of Advent is to come into God's presence, whether it be through devotions, or coming to church for those special services, coming to the candlelight or family service, or going to church with your families in the places where they worship…to simply be together, to experience the love that we have in relationships, that joy of just being together. And this year is probably a very important year for just being together because of this tough economy.

And that love that we share with each other is that same love that God gives to us as God's children. God shared that love through this baby who we celebrate year after year, who opens in our mind the wonder of what it must have been like some two thousand-plus years ago when people came from all over, people who had been looking for hope and peace and love and joy for centuries and for generations. And there was the promise that arrived, and it is there for us for all time, now and always.

So as we look for places where we might gather that sense of Christmas love, let us remember that love that God has given to us, and let us remember that with that love comes an expectation that we share it with all of those around us. And when we do that, it may just be that loving moment that someone else will remember in the years to come.

December 14, 2008

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