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Fourth Sunday of Advent

Restore Us, O God: Love; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; December 18, 2011

 

When you hear the word Love, what do you think of? Parental love, romantic love, love of preferences or love of God?  What is this Christmas love all about?

Relationships columnist, Greg Baker, doesn't think so. In a down economy, one of the biggest dangers for Christians -- especially Christians with young children -- is debt. Parents feel an obligation to show their love by making Christmas a memorably magical time for their little ones, showering them with expensive gifts. This compulsion can cause shoppers who are otherwise cautious and prudent to abandon their financial discipline for a few weeks -- with serious implications for their net worth, come the January credit-card billing cycle.

This might be called consumer love.

Too many people think of love as a touchy, feely thing, especially those who are enamored with romantic love and its promises. However, in stark contrast, one of the characters in (Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers’ Karamazov (Macmillan, 1922), 55) proclaims boldly

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in sight of all. Men will give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as if on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude.” (Italics mine)

 

What would you do for love? God has no limits.

What's the craziest thing you have ever done for love?

To what lengths would you go for the one you love?

Has love ever inspired you to make some vaguely ridiculous, over-the-top actions or declarations?

Slightly silly, romantic stories of elaborate marriage proposals pop up in the news from time to time. One creative spirit invited his girlfriend into a small plane so that they could have a bird's-eye view of a hayfield where the farmer had mown out the words "marry me."

Another guy took the risk of proposing to his girlfriend on live morning television as millions watched. One girl, who was tired of waiting for her turtle-paced boyfriend to pop the question, baked a cake with an engagement ring on top.

Each of these people took a risk; these gestures could have gone dramatically wrong. Instead, these unique ideas had the desired effect (the answer was yes!), which reminds the romantics among us that daring openly to express our love can have wonderfully satisfying results.

It's not just fresh, new love that encourages dramatic displays of devotion. Love can invite sacrifice and determination at any age and under many circumstances. Consider the father who, after a long day of out-of-town business meetings, drives all night to avoid missing his first grader's school play.

Or the mother who sits at her desk every day to write to her son during his yearlong deployment overseas. There's the insurance agent who donated his kidney when he discovered he was a match for his coworker in the next office cubicle.

What would you do for the one you love? What wouldn't you do for the one you love? There comes a time when it's not enough to simply declare love; words can seem empty without convincing actions to back them up.

A constant theme in love songs is the celebration of tangible, visible devotion on display for all to see. Love's the thousand yellow ribbons on the old oak tree; it's Marvin Gaye vowing that there's no mountain too high, no river too wide or any valley too low to keep him away from his beloved. This is what love looks like.

 

God's love for the world . . .

The psalmist sings God's love song for the world to hear as God's unbreakable covenant is proclaimed. God's steadfast love will be recklessly poured out on God's beloved. Psalm 89 is filled with action verbs, reflecting a God in motion, unstoppable because of the power of this love. God will set a crown, anoint with oil, always remain and strengthen.

There will inevitably be obstacles to love, but God is prepared. God will not allow the enemy to outwit or humble the beloved. Any foes will be crushed and haters will be struck down.

This is not a fairy tale, unrealistic love; this is a relationship that will be tested by daunting obstacles; but it is a relationship which will continue because of the faithfulness of God.

In this enduring covenant, God promises "my faithfulness and steadfast love." The beloved will respond to this lasting relationship with the heartfelt cry, "You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!" (v.26)

This is what God would do for love -- God enters into this relationship wholeheartedly and without reservation. God declares unending love without abandon. The only thing keeping us from God’s love is our refusal to accept God’s gracious Gift.
 

 

Christmas love . . .

God’s kind of love demands courage. As we celebrate Advent and Christmas, we're fully aware of where God's love is leading us. The love might begin in the softly starlit manger, but it inevitably will lead to the harsh noonday sun reflecting on the Cross. God knows this, of course, but does not shy away from the pain that is coming.

God's extravagant love is demonstrated in God's willingness to give sacrificially. God bestows the most precious gift, God's Son, knowing that this offering will not be appreciated, honored, or (at times) even recognized.

The price is great, almost beyond measure. The gift of Christmas is that God looks at the cost but still cares enough to send the very best. The best is the gift of Christ: this bundle of love wrapped in cloths hastily assembled in the lowliest of birth places. It's the gift --

- that makes the angels sing,
- the shepherds run to attention,
- the magi travel to worship and adore
- and it's the gift that continues to bless us even today.

God's love is an "always" love; the psalmist assures us that God is steadfast in devotion and faithfulness. (Review the Psalm readings from Psalm 89, 36, and 107 that focus on God’s love.)

The intensity and strength of this love should bring to mind the pledge, spoken or unspoken, of parents across the globe when they catch the first glimpse of their newborn child. In that instant an unbreakable bond is formed with the understood vow, "I will always be there for you." It is fierceness like that of a tigress or a mother bear -- I will fight for you, if necessary. I will defend you with my blood, with my life and with all of my spirit.

Although this love will seek to protect and promises never to abandon, it does not and cannot promise an absence of danger, loss or stress. There will be foes, enemies and wicked ones who want to do harm.

God promises that the love of God will never end; the evil that exists cannot prevail. It's not a gilded path free of pain or sorrow, but rather the accompaniment of faithfulness along a precarious journey; it's the promise of a love that is steadfast, strong and true. We can count on this love, no matter what comes.

As cute and fanciful as the imaginative marriage proposals might be, it's this mature, lasting love that every couple really needs. Even if they're unaware of it at the blissful beginning, couples will need a love that is tough, enduring and prepared to meet obstacles head-on. They need a love that offers the armor and protection that is needed to see them through the ups and downs that await them down the road.

That love arrives in a deceptively simple package, laid in a manger, approachable by all who wish to encounter him. This gift and promise of God is for everyone. One could mistakenly believe that Advent is about an adorable baby who mysteriously appears annually at this time of year.

Yet this child who is born to us, this Son who is given is the Savior of the world. The Advent season asks us to prepare our hearts to receive a love that is humbling in its passion and amazing in its depth.

God's love does not fade, weaken or diminish. It's offered to us fresh and new every day. What are we asked to do for this love?

Simply say "yes" to God who is always willing to give us more.

More hope, more peace, more joy, and the greatest love of all.

Let us pray . . .  Amen. 

 

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