A couple of weeks ago, as Merle was sharing in his morning class, he mentioned something which has been resonating with me these last two weeks. He said that in all of the gifts and in all of the fruits that God gives us to demonstrate the Kingdom of God…they are all undergirded by God’s Love.
For if you practice peace but do not have God’s Love…it is not a divine peace. The same idea is true for hospitality, compassion, charity, temperance, justice, teaching, administrating, sharing the truth, and proclaiming Jesus. Even love is not really divine unless it begins, is sustained, and remains centered in God’s Love.
During this Advent and Christmas season, we focus on the event of Jesus’ birth. And that is a very good thing! Because Jesus Christ is the gift and fruit of God’s Love for us. Yet Jesus is even more…he is God’s Love in flesh in blood in bone.
Another thing that has accompanied me this week is this song—and it isn’t a Christmas song, but it is… “Jesus, Jesus. There’s just something about that name. Master, Savior, Jesus. Like the fragrance after the rain. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Let all heaven and earth proclaim! Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something that name.” Why does that song well up within me? God’s Love.
I get joyful, hopeful, peaceful because of God’s Love for me and you, and you, and all of us. God’s Love did not show up with Jesus’ birth. God’s Love was present from the beginning. We believe that God created the world because of love. We believe that when the world fell into bitterness, shame, and anger because of our sinful rebellion against God, He loved us still. He loved us through prophets, judges, priest, and kings…until the time was ripe. Now we are able to have a real and genuine relationship with our God because of His Love.
And this brings me to the next part of my journey this week: T. S. Eliot’s “The Jouney of the Magi”:
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
I want you to take hold of what Eliot is saying. In coming to know of God’s Love for us—in that journey where we travel through the muck of this world and the difficulties of life…and then we meet Jesus…it is a birth and death. We are born to our real selves because of God’s Love washing over us and saturating our minds, hearts, and bodies. And at the same time we are dying to an old world and an old way of life because of the birth of Jesus.
In my reading this week I came across a powerful description of God’s Love in the story of John Woolman. He was a Quaker saint who dedicated his life to living out God’s Love. The story goes that as he involved in ministry, he came to a meeting and preached God’s truth and love concerning the holding of slaves. After worship, he was invited to a prominent Friends’ home for a meal and fellowship. Upon arrival, Woolman discovered that the Friend had slaves and those slaves had prepared his room, meal, and so forth. Woolman quietly left. The Friend was so moved when he discovered what had happened that, the next day, he liberated those he held in bondage.
The point? Words are important, but action/demonstration/persistence is essential. You and I, our families, this Meeting, congregation, fellowship, can talk all it wants about their love…it will not have an impact unless we demonstrate it.
Finally, I want to close with a love story. It is called “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. It is the story of a poor, young married couple. They treasured one another. And each had only one thing else they valued besides one another: she, her long golden hair; he, the watch his grandfather and father had passed on to him. Christmas arrived and they had no money. She went and sold her treasured hair to get money for his gift. He went and sold his cherished heirloom for her gift. When he walked through the door he halted. “I cut my hair to buy your gift,” she said. She handed him a lovely strap for his watch. He handed her fancy combs for her hair (which was no longer needed combs). “I sold my watch to buy you the combs,” he said.
They demonstrated their love for one another. It was costly. Friends, as we celebrate Christmas this season, let us remember that God’s Love appearing here on Earth—Jesus—was costly, precious. Let us live out that precious love in all we do and at all times. That is a challenge, but because we are in Christ and Christ is in us…we are able to demonstrate God’s Love. Amen.