Sunday, December 22, 2013

Waiting in advent love RUMC 12/22/13 (not preached due to weather cancellation)

Waiting in advent love
RUMC 12/22/13
 Here we are already... The last Sunday of Advent… 3 days before Christmas. Where has the season gone? We have been following the themes of the advent wreath. We started by talking about hope and joy, last week Robyn shared about shalom or peace. Today we come to the one that I think is foundational to all the other three. We come to the advent theme that undergirds all the others because it is the very essence of God: it is the fundamental purpose of the incarnation. It is the greatest transformative gift the world has ever known: LOVE.

 First, Love is the essence of God. From 1 john we read what… in the 4th chapter, the 8th verse. Look it up. I John 4:8… if you are having trouble… p 241. Chapter 4 verse 8. In the middle of that verse, we read three simple words, 9 simple letters that mean more than a million words written by the greatest theologians in a thousand sermons. Those three words. . . “God is Love.”
•             Not, God loves.
•             Not love is God.
•             But God IS love.
o             Love is the very essence of God. 
o             In other words love is part of the fundamental characteristic of godliness
People have sought since the beginning of time to define God. Some say the God’s essence is creativity, others eternity, still others power. I would argue, however, that while there is truth in each of those definitions, they all pale in comparison to the power and completeness of the simple “God is Love”
To say God is love does not mean that God has any relationship to our imperfect human love. It does not mean that God is limited to any inadequate or incomplete human understanding of love. It does not mean that our love defines God. It means just the opposite. God defines love.
The word for love here is Agape. The Greek word agape seems to have been virtually a Christian invention -- a new word for a new thing. The Greeks knew philios brotherly love. They knew Eros, erotic love, but Agape was something new.
Before Jesus time the word Agape was virtually unknown. God provided the example and definition for Agape in the unique revelation of God in Christ. It cannot be defined in any other way. Agape cannot be understood in terms of natural human inclinations. Agape cannot be understood in terms of human instinct or feelings. Agape has its source in the divine determination to love. Agape, as defined by God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, is fundamentally the basic element of God-likeness and therefore Christ-likeness.
That is what John is saying when he writes, “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God.” He is saying that Agape is not some objective, impersonal, intellectual kind of love. This Agape is a spiritual gift that comes from the source of all Agape love: God himself. It comes by first experiencing God’s love, and then by loving others.

 Second love is the fundamental rationale for the incarnation.
I John goes on to say “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.” Does that remind you of another passage? “For God so LOVED the world that he sent his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16.
•             Jesus did not come to teach so much as he came to love.
•             Jesus did not come to heal as much as he came to love.
•             Jesus did not come to do miracles as much as he came to reveal the astounding Agape love of God.
I hope that you remember, from our study of THE STORY, that
•             God created out of love.
•             God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden out of love.
•             God saved Noah because of Love.
•             God chose Abraham and provided Isaac out of love.
•             And on and on
You probably also remember that no matter how many times God loved, people sinned. No matter how many times God loved, sin won.
UNTIL. Until the word became flesh and lived among us. Or as the Message Bible reads, “God put on skin and moved into the neighborhood.” 
In the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus God’s love won victory over sin, once and for all.
Bottom line… God came in Jesus because he loved us. That love is the one and only reason for the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and therefore the one and only reason for Christmas.

So, first, Love is the very essence of God. Second, love is the fundamental purpose for Christmas.
 Finally, Agape love is the greatest transformative gift ever known.
Let me tell you three stories of transformation.

Ted Stallard undoubtedly qualifies as the one of "the least." Turned off by school. Very sloppy in appearance. Expressionless. Unattractive. His mother died when he was in third grade and his father didn’t show much interest in the boy.
Everything seemed to be against him. Even his teacher, Miss Thompson, enjoyed bearing down her red pen -- as she placed Xs beside his many wrong answers.
Christmas arrived. The children piled elaborately wrapped gifts on their teacher's desk. Ted brought one too. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with Scotch Tape. Miss Thompson opened each gift, as the children crowded around to watch. Out of Ted's package fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half of the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to snicker. But she silenced them by splashing some of the perfume on her wrist, and letting them smell it. She put the bracelet on too.
At day's end, after the other children had left, Ted came by the teacher's desk and said, "Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And the bracelet looks real pretty on you. I'm glad you like my presents." He left. Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her and to change her attitude.
The next day, the children were greeted by a reformed teacher -- one committed to loving each of them. Especially the slow ones. Especially Ted. Surprisingly -- or maybe, not surprisingly, Ted began to show great improvement. He actually caught up with most of the students and even passed a few.
Time came and went. Miss Thompson heard nothing from Ted for a long time. Then, one day, she received this note:
Dear Miss Thompson:
I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class.
Love, Ted
Four years later, another note arrived:
Dear Miss Thompson:
They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it.
Love, Ted
And four years later:
Dear Miss Thompson:
As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year.
Love Ted
Miss Thompson attended that wedding, and sat where Ted's mother would have sat. The love she had shown that young man entitled her to that privilege.  She took a chance and became transformative love incarnate.

There is a story told of an old monastery that had fallen upon hard times. It was once a great order, had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying monastery, all of them over seventy years old. Clearly, it was a dying order.
As the abbot agonized over the imminent death of his order, he happened to meet a rabbi and ask him if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.
They talked for a short while and then the time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other, and the rabbi offered one word of advice. “The only thing I can tell you is that the Savior is one of you.”
In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Savior is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one?
As they each contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat one another with extraordinary love and respect on the off chance that one among them might be Savior.
Without even being conscious of it, the neighbors began to sense this new incarnation of love that now began to surround the five monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it.
Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery to picnic, to play, to pray. Its beauty drew them in. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.
Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while, one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order. Why, because of the rabbi’s advice? No. because the Monks took a chance that one of them was the savior. Love became real and tangible there. Love was incarnate and it transformed everything. 

 A few weeks ago, I told you about a millionaire who met a class of 61 6th graders and offered to pay for their college if they graduated from High School. Rene Cheesman asked me about the end of that story. Here it is.
6 years later in 1987, Of the 61 students 54 remained in contact with the millionaire’s I HAVE A DREAM organization, more than 90% of those have earned their high school diplomas or GED certificates; and 60% have pursued higher education. The Dreamers have received degrees from Bard College, Barnard College, Swarthmore College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, City University of NY @Hunter, and other schools. Almost all of the P.S. 121 Dreamers hold fulfilling jobs, and those who are now parents themselves vow that their children will go to college.   
Why? Because a man named Eugene Lang took a chance and became love incarnate and transformed the lives and futures of those students.

 At Christmas God is transformative agape love in the flesh of a little baby for you. God’s agape love is taking a chance on you. Making himself vulnerable as a little baby for you. Putting his love into the flesh of Jesus for you. He is doing that in hopes of completely and totally transforming who you are and who you will become. Transforming you to be more God-like, more Christ like.
That is God’s perfect Christmas gift for you. AMEN

Robyn's pastoral prayer for the day.

We pray for those who, like our Lord, have no home this Christmas;
                Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for those who have no family with which to celebrate The Savior’s birth and especially for those  millions of orphaned children throughout the world;
                Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for those whose Christmas dinner will be a cup of rice and thin broth—or less—or nothing at all;
                Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
For those who live in war zones and those who have never known anything but fear, intimidation and the violence of abuse;
                Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
For our brothers and sisters in Christ celebrating his birth in Northern Nigeria, China, North Korea, Iraq and in prison and other areas of the world where Christians are persecuted for their faith;
                Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for ourselves in our need, for we may be most needy of all.  We will have lots of gifts under our tree and more food on our table than most, but for all our wealth we are perhaps most needy.   We are the poor in Spirit.  Revive our faith, we pray.  Stir our souls and let Christ truly be born in our hearts this Christmas.
                Lord, in your mercy hear our prayer.
Finally, we pay for those everywhere around the globe or in our own church who are without hope this day.  May the miracle of Christmas so touch them that the promise of Emmanuel becomes real in their lives – God with us- Our strength and our hope for every need.   We ask this in one heart, one faith and one voice as we pray as Our Lord prayed…
(Lord’s Prayer)

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