Fourth Sunday of Advent- Love
December 21, 2008
Measuring in Love
Here we are at the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we are still waiting. We are still waiting, even though the anticipation is heightened now. We are still waiting to celebrate Christmas even though we may feel like a kid that has had to much sugar. Many of us are ready, some of us still have shopping to do. If we were strict observers, we would not yet have the baby Jesus in our manger scenes, and we would have not yet sung any carols except “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
One of the prophets in the youth group asked on the first Sunday of Advent- how do you wait for something that has already happened? What a question! Have you been able to wait for this event that you know has already happened, but happens again each year?
This is the fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Sunday, and even though we are still waiting, we take time this day to acknowledge God’s powerful gift of love that was given to the world in Jesus Christ. How fitting and how wonderful that we celebrate baby dedications today. What a powerful symbol Lizzy and Emma are to us- this is how Christ came to earth- as a baby! A sight so wonderful that even the most Scrooge-like among us can’t help but smile. God’s gift of love was a tiny, vulnerable child- the Word made flesh to live among us.
If we really want to know about love this Christmas, I think Mary has a few things to teach us; both about love and about God. In our scripture this morning Mary has just been told that she is going to conceive a child that is God’s through the Holy Spirit. When our modern ears hear this news we wonder, “Wasn’t she scared?” We put ourselves in Mary’s shoes- we think how terrified we would be if we were fourteen, unmarried and pregnant. But Luke gives us no indication that Mary was upset. Instead, she goes to see her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth is thrilled with the news she brings, and the baby that she is carrying, who is John the Baptist, even leaps in her womb for joy. Then we find out Mary’s response to her pregnancy. Mary rejoices in what God is doing in her life.
Mary’s response to God’s miracle within her is to sing a love song to God. She sings this hymn that we call the “magnificat” telling of the wonders of God. Mary tells of God’s mercy and power. Mary tells of the way God raises up the lowly and humbles the proud. She tells of the way God lifts up the lowly and brings down the powerful. She tells of the way God provides for the hungry and sends the rich away empty. She sings of a God who turns all of our expectation topsy-turvy. Mary sings a love song to God.
One of the amazing things about this love song is that Mary sings it as if God has already done all these things. Even though the power to turn the world one its head comes through Jesus Christ, who is still within her womb, Mary sings of a God who has always created justice in the world, and will continue to do so. Mary sings a love song to God, who has already begun giving the most powerful gift of love imaginable, a Son and Savior.
When we are blessed by God, as each one of us is in so many ways, we too can sing a song of love back to God. Sometimes when we are blessed, and things are going well we forget to call on God, we forget to sing a love song. If we remember that it is from God that all blessings flow, then we might do well, especially at Christmas to remember to thank God, and to express our love to God. You don’t have to be eloquent like Mary, a simple Christmas prayer will do. However, because of the blessings that we have received from God- at this time of year and always we should sing of our love for God.
Along with singing her love song to God, Mary also found someone to share the love with. Mary shared the love she received with Elizabeth. Both women were pregnant miraculously; Mary through the Holy Spirit and Elizabeth in her old age after years of being barren. They both had good news of God’s love to share! And so they spent some time together. The scripture says that Mary spent three months with Elizabeth- that’s an entire trimester of her pregnancy! When we are the recipient of God’s love it is only fitting that we share that love with others.
It is not only in the good times that we need to share God’s love with others. Sharing God’s love is especially appropriate when someone around you is in pain or trouble. Love is meaningless if you keep it for yourself. We are called to share the love of God with others even in difficult times. I read a beautiful story of love recently in a book called, Here if You Need Me. In the book Kate Braestrup tells of her life as a chaplain for the Maine Game Warden Service. Her husband was a policeman and was about to enter seminary when he was killed on the job. Kate went to seminary in his place and became a chaplain. The book tells of her job and her life as a single mom. In it she tells this story about her youngest daughter whose nickname is Woolie, her son Zach and their uncle.
“Two summers ago, Woolie and Zach were badly burned when the gasoline my cousin George was using to ignite a pile of backyard brush essentially exploded in their faces. Being burned in a fire is one of the classic images of hell, and it’s a pretty powerful one. Being burned hurts a lot.
As I drove my burned loved ones to the hospital, I had the 911 dispatcher on the cell phone. She kept asking me whether anyone was having trouble breathing. What she knew and I didn’t was that if George and the kids had inhaled the scalding air at the moment of ignition, the insides of their lungs would begin to swell and shred, and they could die very quickly.
So she kept saying, “Are they breathing?” And I would hold the cell phone up in the air, so she could hear the hellish sounds of the cursing and crying.
George was cursing and crying because his burns hurt and because he knew that the fire that had injured these children was his mistake, his fault. He was the adult who had decided to use gasoline to start the fire, and his was the hand that struck the match.
“Are they breathing?” the dispatcher said, and I held up the cell phone.
George, beside me in the passenger seat, said, “Oh God. Oh hell. I am so sorry. I am so sorry.”
Zach was sitting behind him in the backseat. In the middle of his own litany of “Oh God” and “Oh hell,” Zach leaned forward. He reached out with his burned arm, an arm blistering and shredding before my eyes, and put his burned hand on George’s shoulder.
“It’s all right, George,” he said. “We love you.”
If you are living in love, you are in heaven no matter where you are. May heaven hold you. May you always, always, live in love.”
Sharing love with one another, love that ultimately comes from God, can make all the difference when someone is in crisis. Our best response to the love we receive is to turn around and give it away to others. Whether we share the love with one another in times of blessing or in times of crisis, we must share the love.
A few weeks ago Dee and I attended a funeral service that celebrated the life of a young woman that we had known at Bethany Hills. One of the things that we liked best about the service was the upbeat music. Some of Jenny’s favorite songs were played. Some were performed live and a couple of songs were recorded. The service ended with a song from the Broadway Musical RENT. The song is called “Seasons of Love.” The song talks about how you measure someone’s life. The lyrics ask, “How do you measure the life of a woman or a man- in truths that she learned? Or in times that he cried? In the bridges he burned? Or the way that she died?” The song comes to this conclusion: “Measure in love.”
This week the Livingston Academy choir sang this song as part of their Christmas concert. A friend said to me, “I didn’t know that song from RENT was a Christmas song.” I told him that I didn’t think it was either. But that statement worked on me this week. What a better time to measure in love than at Christmas time? What if we measured the quality of our Christmas by how much love was shared? What if we counted in love rather than presents received, or money spent, or Christmas celebrations we attended?
God most certainly measures in love- don’t you think? If we think of the gift of the incarnation, of God sending a precious human child to earth to dwell with us- then don’t you think we can measure God’s actions in love as well? What if we measured our own lives in love? How would our lives look if we counted the acts of love we shared in the last year? The times we had patience and showed kindness to others?
I wish for you this year a Christmas measured in love, and not material things. Measure in kind words spoken, in hugs given, in sweet reunions, in meals shared at large tables. Measure in time and attention given to children, in walks taken with loved ones, in patience with family members, in remembering your neighbors, in donations made. Measure this Christmas in love. Measure in love.
We hear Mary sing a song of God’s love. Whether she knew or not all of what the child inside of her would become, she knew that she was loved beyond all measure. When we are blessed by God, as we most assuredly will be as Christmas comes this week, we need to sing the love back to God as we lift up praise. We need to share the love with others, that they too might feel liked God’s beloved. And most importantly, we need to put away all the other things we use to compare ourselves to one another and measure only in love. May the gift of God’s love in the infant Jesus overwhelm and astound you this Christmas.