Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Sermon for the Longest Night

I'm a little late posting this, but this was my sermon for my Longest Night of the Year service, on December 21st.

God’s Lifelong Love Letter
Longest Night Service 2015

2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; 5 and he shall be the one of peace.
~Micah 5:2-5 NRSV

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
 ~1 John 3:1-2 NRSV

I made what may ultimately be a mistake when I downloaded what my cell phone calls “Kids Mode.” My son loves to use my phone in Kids Mode. He has developed a certain sense of entitlement about it, that he should be allowed to use Kids Mode when he wants it, at any given moment when I am not actively using my phone…and sometimes when I am using it! Sometimes, I attempt to entice him to use his own Leap Frog tablet, which has a number of similar features and, probably more importantly, is something I never aspire to use for my own purposes.

This may all be fairly irrelevant, except for one thing that is true about both my phone and my son’s tablet: they have video and audio recording capability, which seems to be quite intriguing for him. No matter how often he records himself, though, what he says or sings always has a similar message: how much he loves his mom, and, to a lesser extent, his dad, and anyone or anything else that is on his mind at the time. I must admit that I am not in any way upset to have multiple video and audio clips of my 4-year-old professing his love for me. I only hope that I will somehow be able to retain these clips for the next 20 years, or so, to listen to in times when he won’t be caught dead admitting I am even his mom, much less how much he loves me.

All this is to say that I have begun to wonder if much of our life experiences and our faith experiences are not God’s seemingly repetitive recordings of one completely life-altering truth: how much God loves us. Now, I’ll be honest: the prophet Micah does not just talk about God’s love. And scripture does not tell us only of God’s love. There is much more to God than that. But even in the midst of some pretty scary stuff, Micah looks ahead to a day when a promised leader will come and bring peace to the people…that one we believe is Jesus…who came from a small backwoods town that no one would have thought twice about. But when it came to where and when and how it would all happen, there was God, saying as God had so many times before, “I love you a lot…enough to come and walk right along with you, to make things right again…”

So much of our lives does not feel like a message of love from God. Perhaps the problem is that we are not always interested in how much God loves us. We find many other shiny things to chase after, and we become weighed down with so many burdens that love for us from others, especially from God, seems terribly unlikely. How can God love us, when we are sometimes grumpy? When we are sometimes so pitiful and unhappy and petty? How can God love us, when we keep making the same mistakes, over and over again?

More than this, though, we are often plagued by a seeming certainty that God, indeed, does not love us. The job didn’t work out the way we thought it would. The diagnosis was not what we had hoped for. The mail came, and there were no seasonal greetings, but bills we know we can’t quite pay. No, perhaps God does not love us. After all, things seem so bleak all around us. People are killing other people. People are living without basic needs being met. Cash flow seems to be drying up for all but a privileged few. There is fear…uncertainty…anxiety…a certain sense of darkness and gloom that seems to settle over everything. Does God love us? Really?

And then, from the midst of the trials and conflicts and persecution of the early church, the writer of 1 John, speaks: “This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: ‘God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.’” And later on he reminds us, “See what love the Father has given us [lavished upon us, one translation says], that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

That is what we are. And God loves us so much…

A couple of years ago there was a popular love song called “I Choose You,” by Sara Bareilles, which I really liked. Part of it goes like this:

There was a time when I would have believed them
If they told me that you could not come true
Just love's illusion
But then you found me
And everything changed
And I believe in something again

My whole heart
Will be yours forever
This is a beautiful start
To a lifelong love letter

Have you seen any of God’s lifelong love letter for you recently? It’s hard, this time of year. There’s a lot else going on. We are pulled in many directions. We seem to live from emotion to emotion, from party to party…or maybe just from day to day, holding on as tightly as we can. Sometimes, the love of God does seem like an illusion.

But some guy came from some backwater town, a long time ago, after being born in a crowded house without a guestroom for his mom and dad to stay in…and he was God. And he came to show us love in person. Because the only thing that’s better than a letter is a face-to-face visit…and God came and did that because a love letter was just not quite enough…

It’s dark outside. I have to admit, the darkness feels like it’s been winning a bit, lately. Some days have been kind of rough, too busy, emotions a little too raw, sleep a little too scarce, the news a little too painful. Two funerals in Advent is plenty.

But that writer of 1 John tells me this:

9 God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
~1 John 4:9-12 NRSV

“We love because he first loved us.” God does love us. The Bible—that love letter—tells us so. Thanks be to God. Amen.