“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Good morning! This is the last Sunday of Advent, the Sunday where the church traditionally meditates on the theme of Love. To borrow from the Beatles, Love is all we need…but what is love really? Love is such a powerful word, but I fear the way we use it has caused it to lose meaning over time.
Love is something that is incredibly hard to define. I mean, think about how we use the word love in our day-to-day lives! I love pumpkin spice lattes, and fuzzy blankets, and that new Taylor Swift album that was released last week….but I also love my family and my friends, and the word means something different in that last part, doesn’t it? God loves us…and I have to believe that that means something much more profound than when I profess my love of fancy coffee.
Have you heard about the study which asked children how they defined love? Here are a few of their answers:
Eight year old Rebecca said, “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis, too. That’s love.”
Four year old Billy said, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other,” says Karl, age 5.
“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” Terri – age 4
“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Danny – age 7
“Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss.” Emily – age 8
4 year old Lauren said, “I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.”
Seven year old Chris says that “Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he’s handsomer than Robert Redford.”
These definitions get to the truth of love in much more profound ways than the dictionary definition of love. I think that’s because love needs to be experienced to be understood. We can talk about love all day, but unless we feel it we can’t understand it’s impact on our lives.
I think this is part of what makes the Christmas story so compelling. Nothing teaches us about the power of love quite like the life of Jesus. In Jesus, we are shown a God that chose to become one of us to live a humble life of hardship. We are shown a God who chose to enter our world as the child of an unwed, teenage mother whose people were living under the thumb of the Roman Empire. In Jesus, we are taught how to live lives full of love. Through his ministry, we are taught to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We are taught to care for those on the margins of society, the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten.
Like most subjects in 2020, preaching about love feels a little different this year. In past years, I may have pointed to family gatherings as an example of God’s love. I may have pointed at time spent with our church community as an example of God’s love. I may have pointed at volunteer opportunities with some of our community partners as an example of God’s love.
But this year is different and in most cases being with people in person isn’t safe. This year, love is being willing to be disappointed. Love this year is being willing to do the hard things. Love this year is staying home, even though we desperately want to travel to be with family. Love this year is worshipping on a computer screen, even though we desperately want to be with each other in person.
I don’t say any of this lightly, because I know how hard it is. Kelsee and I had hoped that it would be safe enough now for us to visit my Mom in Arizona over Christmas and have Kelsee’s parents visit us at the end of year…and we were really looking forward to spending some time with our families. But, love this year was making the hard choice not to see each other so that we can be together again safely next year.
We are called to love because God first loved us—and there’s no greater reminder of that love than the image of a baby in a manger. This is why each year on the fourth Sunday of Advent we are called to meditate on the theme of Love.
In her book “Celebrating a Christ-Centered Christmas,” Sharon James adapted a Christmas version of one of the most well-known scripture verses in all of the Bible. I’m sure you will recognize it, as it is read during weddings all around the world.
“If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another decorator.
If I [work hard] in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.
“If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.
If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.
Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way. Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.”
May it be so in our lives as well. Amen.