Tuesday, December 22
Today’s Thought & Prayer is supplied from the weekly Advent Oasis service, happening on zoom on Wednesday evenings at 7:30pm. Please plan to come to this brief (15-20 minute) gathering. Here are the coordinates:
Join Zoom Meeting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83561561966?pwd=V1B5ZmtZYktnNDRzRVlWMkpmclp3UT09
Meeting ID: 835 6156 1966
In addition to lighting of the Advent candles together, we will pray, hear God’s word, and reflect on the Christ’s promise of salvation, in this time of darkness. All this in 15 to 20-minutes!! Here’s the reflection that Arleane R. will be leading us through. This week the focus is on Love.
Matt Tullos, an American Baptist preacher and writer, speaks of today’s reading in these simple terms:
If you want to know how to love one another, look at the love that sent Jesus to earth to live a life of love and pay the price for all of our sins. It’s all about love. It’s always been about love. This isn’t a love of fancy words and impossible tasks. This is a love that simply says, “I am willing to love you no matter what.”
God loves us, you and me, no matter what. This is wonderful and astonishing, all the more so because God doesn’t need to love us. God wants to love us, and God wants us to be open to receiving that love. God didn’t need Jesus to live among us. But you’ll note that God in fact “sent” his son for the sake of humanity — “sent,” not “Jesus came” or “Jesus showed up” or “Jesus happened to be in the area.” God sent Jesus, and in just a few days we will celebrate that great gift.
Note also that God doesn’t love us this way, because we persuaded God to do so or because the human race demanded or even expected it. God doesn’t love us because we are especially good (because frankly sometimes we’re not). God made us and chose to love us. I find that staggering and at the same time breathtakingly simple.
God’s love exceeds action or earthly relationships. God loves and God IS love. The Incarnation of God at Christmas sets into motion the divine example of how we need to be loved and to love others. It exceeds mere fondness or polite affection. It’s not romanticized. It’s not seasonal. It’s not fleeting. God’s love is very real and sweeping, while it’s not fancy or impossible, it is certainly radical. The Christmas narrative – God sending a baby into the world for our salvation – is, on the face of it, an extraordinary and risky and seemingly impractical plan.
Mother Jennifer referenced the unexpectedness of it all in her Christmas letter: a virgin becomes pregnant; there’s no room in the inn; a star and angels alarmingly appear in the night sky; and the first to have audience with the newborn king are seekers from a foreign land who have to sneak home by a different route. On top of that, the holy family themselves become refugees.
There is an Impressionist painting of the Nativity by Garibaldi Melchers that shows Mary not upright and beaming, but completely laid out on her back and likely asleep. Joseph sits with hunched shoulders and clasped hands, somberly watching the baby, perhaps worn out himself or maybe in contemplation about what this is all going to mean. The walls and floor are grey and barren. There are no adoring gift-giving guests in this scene. The only spot of brightness besides the Christ child are a water jug and basin – clearly there for post-natal clean up. Childbirth is messy and exhausting. Child rearing is exhausting and expensive. Living a human life can be frustrating and tedious, even without being something of an outsider and social disrupter as Jesus became. This is how God loves the world.
Dorothy Sayers, best known as a crime writer but also an essayist, put it like this:
For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is— limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death. He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. … He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.
God could have loved the world from on high, from a position of majesty and glory. Jesus could have least been born in a really nice B&B. He could have skipped the whole thing and been remote and omnipotent. God could have done it that way, but God didn’t, “and thought it well worthwhile.” This is how God loves us.
I am in a unique position to be able to quote the Right Rev. Jenny Andison who, in one of her Christmas homilies last year, beautifully summarized what we can learn about love by examining God’s extraordinary plan of sending Jesus to dwell among us:
God becoming one of us dignifies what it means to be human –– no one therefore is disposable, no one is irredeemable, no one is beyond hope. God living a human life demonstrates for us the potential that exists in all of us and in all our relationships for transformation. By coming to earth as the baby Jesus, God is hanging in there with us, not leaving us to our own devices, not abandoning us – Jesus shows us what IS possible in our friendships, our marriages, or work relationships.
If we didn’t believe God’s love could perfect everything, we would have given up a long time ago. We wouldn’t work at relationships with each other. We wouldn’t work to soldier on through this pandemic. We would ask questions like, “If God is love, why do we need to create Christmas hampers? If God is love, why can’t we celebrate together as a parish family? If God is love, why is rain forest still being depleted at a rate of 200 thousand acres a day?” Well, it is precisely because God is love that we ask these questions and then act on them to care for and feed one another and to protect each other and God’s creation.
God so loved the world that Jesus was sent to live among us and experience human existence from birth to death, with all its chaos and roughness and pain. And while that seems like bad news, it is in fact the very best news. Christmas shows us that divine love can transform the world, that trials shall pass or be overcome, and even when life turns out to be messy or disappointing and challenging, we have a God that knows exactly what that feels like and a guarantee of a love that triumphs over it all. We therefore are not without hope or peace or joy. We are not in darkness, even when it seems as if we are. And we are the recipients and the instruments of transformative love. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
Lord God, let your blessing come upon us with the lighting of this candle of LOVE.
May its light be a sign of Christ’s promise of salvation, in this time of darkness.
Now we watch and wait for his coming. Lord Jesus, come soon.