These texts illuminate love for us, divine love. This means we see what love is not even as we learn what love is. This can challenge us as God doesn’t meet our expectations, but it also gives us life as God exceeds our wildest imagination.
Love isn’t placating and pleasing the other by giving them what they want (sorry Israel – no golden calf god who is willing to be less than GOD… mere ornamental jewelry).
Love isn’t restricted to only those who want to love, or who will love you back – the overarching story, to the thousandth generation no less, is the forgiveness and steadfast nature of God’s love regardless of what we do with it – we cannot be unworthy of love.
Love isn’t free from claiming us for something better, for placing before us expectations. We are forgiven, and yet the ways we participate in thwarting God’s love will still be named and called to mind to the third and fourth generation as we seek to be more fully claimed by love.
Love is neither all about me or all about God. Love isn’t simply just what we have been given but because of love we becoming loving. And God does not seek to be the object of our love and devotion, in fact God IS the love. God abides in us as we love and devote ourselves to one another: our brothers and sisters, neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies.
So what is love?
Love is an action and not simply and emotion. This is the key to incarnation. Love cannot be done remotely or apart from tangible expression. Love is dirty – its flesh and blood. Love is not God sitting on God’s throne in the heavens showering some benign good will upon the world. God’s love is revealed among us as God’s son born among us. Similarly we cannot love the world from within a sanctuary. We can talk about, prepare for it, and practice it: but loving our brother and sister requires sending ourselves into the world to love one another.
Love is giving. Fear has no place in love because loving means opening oneself up fully to the other and not allowing our fear to hold us back. Love is becoming vulnerable and open to the beloved. The world teaches us to be turtles holding back until we trust. God says that life lived safely without love isn’t worth living. And God did so by loving to the point of death… and beyond.
Loving is knowing. In love we seek to know the other, not our assumptions, not our generalities or categories. Love is about descending into the other’s abyss and seeking to know them at the deepest level on their terms – not on ours. God didn’t force us to come to God; God came to us. God didn’t keep the power; God empowered us while being completely vulnerable before us. Love is about encountering the other and seeking to make their story, our story; and making our story a part of their story.
This is the love the coming Christ illuminates for us and the constant reminder that when we abide in love – we abide in God, and God abides in us. Amen.
Near the end of Joanna’s words yesterday she said, “Let joy bubble from your soul and flow out like a fountain to the world around you!”
That phrase really hit me. Joy bubbles – it flows and gurgles like a fountain – joy is not yours alone but it’s shared with those around you.
This realization ask two things of me:
First, what gives me that kind of feeling? So often we put a lot of time and energy into things that only suck every bit of life out of us. Why do we do this? Sometimes it’s unavoidable but often we do it out of some misplaced sense of duty and obligation. Sometimes even from some sub-conscious place of self-abuse. Why do we do these things to ourselves?
God wills joy for us, the advent-ure that we are on and await is meant to be a journey that includes bubbling joy. So what gives you that kind of joy? Where do you find that occurring in your life, and how can you re-arrange some of the furniture of your life to maximize this joy?
The second thing I think of is that our joy isn’t something that is meant to be for us alone. As much as we like to think about what makes us happy – God is in the business of bringing “Joy to the World,” for God “so loves the world that God gave God’s only son.” So even while we ask what brings us joy we are then asked the question: does it also bring joy to others? God’s joy is not something that gives us joy at other’s expense but it bubbles up and flows out. It brings us joy but in the actualizing of that joy it also lifts other’s spirits. When we illuminate our joy we become sources of illumination and joy for others.
Where do you find such joy, and how are you a bubbling up and flowing out joy in the life of the world?
Yesterday we illuminated joy through music and drama – all ages gathered to tell the story of Advent and Christmas. And, because it just happens that way, the light of Advent shone particularly well through the eyes of our children. Children teach us much about joy.
And I’m reminded again of King David bringing the Ark back to Israel after its long time in captivity and exile (I’d love to say more about that because it’s among my favorite stories but alas it’s too off topic today).
Here is the story of the ark’s homecoming with David in 2 Samuel 6:
So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing… David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 16As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart…20David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!”21David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord. 22I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.”
I think sometimes we believe worship must be refined and dignified. It should have an element of perfection. So we dress up in good clothes, we sing happy songs, and we wear smiles on our faces regardless of the conditions of our hearts. We script pretty prayers and make sure all is decent and “in order.” We worship in a way that would meet the approval of Michal. And then David – with all his ruddy and youthful exuberance – bursts in leaping and dancing and carrying on like a common drunkard. And we often, like Michal, look on with disdain while we miss that what David is drunk on is the joy of the God’s presence and power and steadfast love. God doesn’t desire orderly worship so much as passionate and authentic expression of our hearts. So we weep when we feel like weeping and sing when we feel like singing, and we stumble, and leap, and dance to the Spirit’s calling.
We make ourselves contemptible to the sensibilities of the dignified while expressing with great honesty our lives before God. Because this is as it should be – we do not live to please the conventions and rules but the one who binds us together in loving community. And who better to teach us that then our children. Who better to teach us to dance to the Spirit’s call then those who have not yet been forced to conform to the social norms but are willing to fling wide the gates of their hearts in joy and sorrow before all.
This advent may our children illuminate joy for us all – for a child shall lead us!
You can find the first Peace reflection by Joanna Dunn here: http://pastormomjdunn.tumblr.com/post/69525010066/illuminating-advent-peace-yesterday-we-started
Joanna challenged us to let there be peace on Earth by beginning with ourselves. How are we agents of peace? I have voices swirling in my head that remind me that we cannot be agents of peace if we are not at peace within ourselves. When we are filled with anger and strife we spread those things. In fact the monk Benedict made it a part of his monastic rule (law) that you could not leave a monastery and go to another because you were unhappy. Why? He said that while you may think you are leaving to get away from the problem, in fact you are simply taking the problem to a new place. The problem resides within us.
But… I say… But it’s tempting to move on to greener pastures. It’s easy to want to identify how others are a part of the problem. It’s easier to see the toothpick in my neighbor’s eye (to quote Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew) than to think about my role in all of it.
For true peace to reign on earth we have to start by finding God’s peace within us. We have to be willing to look deeply to our own soul’s discontent, unhappiness, and anger. This is why peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace requires to the ability to be comfortable in our own skin; comfortable with the people around us. Peace is not subjugating our own inner turmoil and keeping it reigned in, just as peace cannot be achieved by subjecting other people to our ways and views. This is not peace. Peace is relieving that turmoil and letting it go. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
What burdens are you carrying? What makes you weary? How are we prepared to come to terms with this, to give it up, and to rest in the one who is peace that we might become agents of peace?
Yesterday, Joanna asked us: “How do we live a hope filled life without then being one who only ‘looks through rose colored glasses’?”
It is a great question. Is there a difference between optimism and hope? I think we do well to remember the one who anchors our hope is Jesus Christ. Our hope is not a general sense of goodness or well-being, or a “Don’t Worry – be Happy.” (Does anyone even remember that song? Google it youth, you missed out on a whole phenomenon with that one.)
What does it mean to have our hope rooted in Jesus Christ? I think it means the character of our hope ought to take on the character of the one in whom our hope rests. (Because it isn’t Pandora’s hope, after all, it is God’s hope resting in the one who is God-with-us.)
As God with us we know that Jesus sets aside glory and honor to take on flesh and blood, sin and grief. That is to say our hope is decidedly not rose colored glasses. It’s the opposite. Hope takes an extra-long and very real look at suffering. We know as well that our hope resides in one that died for us. Our hope is not a self-serving thing of comfort, ease, and material well-being. Our hope is rooted in the one who had nowhere to lay his head, who sought out the least and the lost, and chose as companions the ones that others had deemed unworthy.
But to come full circle this doesn’t mean our hope is less than rose colored glasses, or benign happiness. The point is that our hope is so much more. Our hope resides in the one who rose from the dead, who healed those left for dead, who united people across cultural and racial divides tearing down the dividing walls of hostility, the one who proclaimed along with the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) and more than proclaimed it by chapter seven when John the Baptist is wondering if Jesus is the one to come – the one in whom our hope resides – Jesus response is not to say yes or no. But to say look what is happening in my wake? Where I go hope rises; lives experience tangible good news.
The hope we find in Jesus is BIG. It is world transforming. Its aim is creation-wide. But it’s accomplished one person at a time. It starts at the bottom and bubbles up. It sees the worst the world has to offer, and responds in counter-intuitive love and blessing.
You want tangible hope? Why don’t we end this week’s reflection on hope in the most tangible and fitting manner. With these words from Nelson Mandela who the world celebrates even as we mourn our loss in his death yesterday because his was a great spirit:
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
This is hope.
(The day one reflection can be found here: https://akukla.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/illuminating-advent-hope-day-1/ and the responding reflection from Joanna Dunn here: http://pastormomjdunn.tumblr.com/post/68927576328/first-thoughts-on-advent-illuminating-hope)
Joanna started me on thinking about the journey of Hope when she mentioned how we see it differently at different ages. We all probably on some level remember the story of Pandora in Greek mythology. She is presented to Prometheus’ brother as punishment for stealing fire. She is the first woman. She bears a box and curiosity. She opens it… and all manner of evil spills into the world.
What you may, or may not, recall is that one thing and only thing that does not spill out of Pandora’s “box” (actually a jar in the original Greek work by Hesiod, Works and Day), hiding just under the lip of the jar, is hope.
And even scholars of such things are undecided about what it means that she (elris is a personified spirit of hope that takes the form of a young woman) remains in the jar. Perhaps it is that Pandora, and humanity with her, is left clinging to hope in a world gone amiss. Perhaps it is actually meant to have a less positive reading – that the one good she had to give Pandora kept sealed away in the jar, spreading evil but not the hope to endure it. (Because Pandora does indeed put the lid back on the jar once she sees that hope hasn’t escaped.
So what do you think? Do we cling to hope for ourselves – do we loose it on the world?
Pandora’s name is derived from the words for all and gift. She is the all-gifted one. But also could be the she is the all-giving one. Meaning she gives hope as well as ill to the world. Regardless of the meaning of the myth the implication to me is that we each have the ability to loose pain on the world, but we also have the ability to give hope. It is inevitable that we do the first; it would be regrettable if we do not seek to do the latter at least as much. How are you loosing hope on the world this season, even as we await with expectations the one who is hope for all?
We began this week reflecting on Hope. Each Monday of Advent our devotional will be a synopsis of the sermon from the day before and then Joanna and I will continue through the week with a conversational devotion continuing those thoughts in various trajectories. So how does scripture illuminate hope, we asked yesterday in worship? When we illuminate the darkness two things happen. We being to see what something isn’t – that isn’t the bogey man under our bed, it’s my dirty clothes. And we begin to see more clearly what something is. So what did we see about the hope that is routed in Jesus Christ?
This hope in Jeremiah 33:14-16, Romans 8:18-25, and 1 Peter 1:3-9 wasn’t a promise that life would be easy. Even those who have the first fruits of creation, Paul tells us, still groan in labor pains with all of creation. We are still waiting for something not yet fully realized. Our hope is not a panacea that promises an easy journey. Our hope also doesn’t promise an escape from this world to some idealized place removed from here. Jeremiah reminds us that the messiah links our past, present, and future. Hope is dirty and rooted in earth. God intends not to redeem me – God intends to redeem (all of) creation. Nothing is getting scrapped (God reminds God’s self of that with every rainbow). Hope doesn’t promise us escape and it also doesn’t promise that we can just sit by as bystanders because God’s work is incarnational – God’s work is in-the-flesh – and this reminds us that God works through human agency. God called Abraham and Moses and Ruth; God calls Mary, Peter, and Paul. God came in flesh: rooted not just in earth but working with all creation as partners in love and care. God calls us.
So if hope is not about ease, retreat, or having our work done for us, what is hope? Is there anything left to make hope have substance?
I think the essence of our hope in Jesus Christ is two-fold. It’s that God’s creation is one. We are all inter-connected; we are all called into neighbor-love in which we understand all that exists – people, earth, stars and sea – to be our neighbor. We are not alone, nor are the tasks before us ours alone. Our hope lies in a God who gathers in all of creation and binds us together in love. We are not alone.
The other aspect of this hope is that God just doesn’t give up on us. The parable of the prodigal son gets us in touch with our own elder brother bitterness. Why do good if even the good-for-nothing younger brother that squandered his inheritance is rewarded in the end? This is the wrong question, an understandable one, but the wrong one. Flip that script. The good news is that God doesn’t give up on us. There is nothing we can do that makes God love us less. There is nothing we can do that puts us outside of God’s grace. There is nothing we can do that puts us beyond the reach of hope. God doesn’t give up. This is our hope.
I leave you, again if you were here Sunday, with this story. My son Warren loves playing video games (he gets that from me) and he gets extremely frustrated by them (sadly he gets that from me too). He annoys Caroline and me to no end with his whining about them. I take the phone away or turn off the PlayStation. I tell him to either stop letting the game bother him or stop playing. But he won’t. He is determined to prove his efforts to win aren’t futile. (Subject to futility anyone?) Staunching determined. He just won’t admit defeat. So there he is – in tears with puffy eyes and contorted limbs – playing. (I’m not exaggerating here. And this is what he does for fun?) And then I realized there is something of God in this. No creation isn’t a video game. God isn’t simply controlling us like a giant APP on God’s iPhone. But God is engaging us day after day hoping it all goes right, vexed that it doesn’t and yet unable to give up on us, unable to give up on creation, unable to imagine that it is not futile but in fact is the groaning and moaning of labor that is birthing something we cannot yet see but know to be a reality. So day after day God engage us again. Generation after generation God – lamenting the brokenness of creation – endeavors to work it towards good. And this – this God contorted and weeping with loving frustration is our hope, because the maker of all that exists is so determined to make it all work to good that God is not capable of giving up on anyone or anything.
We are not alone. We are bound together. We are the people of a God incapable of giving up on us. Thanks be to God. Amen.