Let’s pray: Father God, how right it is to start this year with you. How much you desire that we start each day with you. Lord, we are grateful that you loved us before we even knew about you or even before we were born. Lord, we praise you. You alone are God. Creator. Lord. Ruler of all. Alpha and Omega. Redeemer. Savior. Sustainer. The same yesterday-Today-Tomorrow. Lord, I ask you to fill me with your words. Open the hearts and minds of those that hear and bring us closer to you Lord. Amen.
These three passages seemed to me to be the perfect place to start the new year. Following the advent season and the hope and promise of the Christ Child, we can now continue the expectation of Advent; looking forward to the promise of Jesus' second coming. Daniel reminded us this past week, God sent Jesus (God the son) in the form of a human baby; Jesus grows to become a man without sin and teaches us how to live the life that God would have us live and then becomes the redemption for all sinners who claim him as Savior. Jesus will come again to save all mankind. That is the tension of expectation in the Advent promise.
As Advent people we have the gift of knowing that what was promised and delivered and promised again, will most assuredly be delivered. Let’s explore a bit deeper into that time of hopeful waiting tension of Advent. Micah 7:7 says “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” How do we live into that waiting? What does it mean to love like God would ask us to love? The scope of this question can go in so many directions. I will try not to go down a rabbit hole. My hope is that you will hear these two themes. How to love in adversity, even when we don’t want to and how to love in forgiving, even when we don’t want to.
God, having created us in his image, gave us the ability to love as he loves. To show God’s love and shine Him into our chaotic, messy world. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 is our action plan in our waiting. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” God loves us so much that he created us for this purpose. Daily, we get to choose to dedicate our lives to God and seek his kingdom rather than fall into the ways of this world. Daily we get to choose to show God’s love to the world.
So, how do we love like God? Jesus is the model we can look to in trying to figure out this idea of loving as God loves. Got Questions-the Biblical Answers app-describes it like this: “Loving like Jesus means we hold everything we own with loose hands. We are willing to part with money, time and possessions in order to serve other people. We recognize that all that he have is on loan to us from our Father in Heaven and we are responsible for what we do with it.” Simply meet the needs of our family/community/world when it is within our power to do so.
Charles Stanley in his daily Devotional “God’s purpose for your life” writes this on December 4th: “The Lord wants you to understand his way–the wisdom with which he works in the world and the detailed manner in which He’s watching over you. He wants you to sense how deeply He loves you and to feel the joy and purpose you were created for. So He engineers circumstances–trials where you cannot help yourself–where you can experience His work on your behalf. Maybe you’re facing such a challenge now. But understand, this is so you can draw near to Him, experience His awesome power poured out for you and so you can realize how completely you can depend on Him.” “Adversity is God’s choice tool for building character, deepening our relationship with Christ and equipping us for future ministry.”
When have you faced adversity and looking back on it you can see that you were given an opportunity for growth? Were you given an opportunity to love in that adversity? Many of us think of adversity as something big, but sometimes it is the stuff of daily living. When I was in nursing school, I worked nights. I found myself falling asleep in lectures. I met with my professors and received permission to stand in the back of the room. Max Lucado in a sermon about abiding love, which means loving no matter what the situation, says this : “No one has seen God at any time." ‘God is invisible. However, "if we love one another" God becomes visible in us. People can’t see His essence but they can see His actions. God’s love becomes measurable in us. Jesus said it this way, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’" (Jn.13:35).
Mother Teresa lived this so well. Her motto was: “It is not about how much you do , but how much love you put into what you do that counts.” Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the American GI in Europe at the close of WWII. The countryside had been ravaged by war and was in ruins. The saddest part was the plight of the orphaned children starving in the streets. Early one cold morning this soldier was walking in the streets when he spotted a little boy with his nose pressed to the window of a pastry shop. Inside the cook was kneading dough for a fresh batch of doughnuts. The hungry boy drooled, watching the baker’s every move. The soldier said, "Son, would you like some of those?" "Would I!" responded the lad. The compassionate GI stepped inside and bought a dozen pastries and then handed the sack to the boy. As he turned to walk away, the stunned child called out, "Sir, are you God?" That is Love in Action during Adversity!
Loving others is often full of difficulty. “A mother put her son to bed on the eve of his fifth birthday. She was trying to communicate that birthday idea to him. “Kevin,” she said, “this is the last night of your fourth year. Do you understand that?” For a full year, Kevin had shown people four fingers for his four years, and now he was ready to add a thumb. Seeing his four fingers, his mother nodded, and said: “When you go to sleep tonight, you’ll still be 4-years-old. But do you know how old you’ll be in the morning, when you wake up?” Kevin nodded enthusiastically, added his thumb to his four little fingers and said, “Tomorrow, I’ll be a Handful!”
Every parent knows that kids can be a handful. That’s why it takes so much love to be a good parent. That principle is true for Christians also. Life can be a handful. Other people in our family, our church, at work—they can all be a handful at times. That’s why it takes so much Godly love to be a Christian. Loving like Jesus means seeing others as the image of God that he created. No discrimination for any diversity or adversity that you can think of. Not for gender, social, financial ethnicity, culture, political or anything that you can think of.
Daniel recently asked this question of the confirmation class. “How difficult would it be to look at another person who has harmed you and still love them? To still see them as a child of God created in his image? This is really tough stuff, but doable in God. It takes loving like Jesus which requires forgiveness. Jesus forgave sins in his healing ministry and instructed us to forgive seventy times seven. Stop for just a second here and think about someone in your life that is or has been difficult to love. Or perhaps you know that you need to forgive them but they are so difficult that forgiveness is not possible.
Now, I would ask you to hold onto that person as I share a story. My mother was a complicated and complex woman. Our relationship was also complicated and complex. My mom struggled with mental illness and during my lifetime, I never knew if I would be hugged or hit. When I left home at 18, I was an angry, distrustful, young woman. Through the years God gently and continually showed me how to forgive. Seventeen months ago, my mom asked to be moved closer to me; as she wanted to be near family and she could no longer take care of herself at home. As an adult, I had found I could forgive if I kept my distance; which meant 1 or 2 times a year I would visit.
God showed me during these past 7 months that forgiveness is not about ignoring or turning our back on the harm, but to see it for what it is and then figure out how to honor that person as He would have us honor that person. As a person created in His image. Forgiveness was not in me, but in God’s strength it is. I was able to see past the mental illness to the heart of my mom. Letting go of the anger and hurt I found peace. I could say it saddens me that it took me all these years to come to this place of peace, but I know God and his heart. He allowed me to find my way to this love and forgiveness. And he allowed me to do this in time to have 3 really good weeks loving my mother before she died. What a gift.
One of my favorite authors is Karen Kingsbury. In her series about the Baxter family she wrote: “God has put your family members in your life for a reason. They may not be loveable, but they all need loving. Sometimes getting past the hurts and strained relationships that can come up in families is as simple as making a choice to love.” So well said.
I will finish with this. Matthew 22: 37-39 says; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’” If we could do these two things: Just these two things: Love God. Love Neighbor, how radical would our world change? Let’s pray to God to show us the way-show us how to love well-show us how to forgive that which we can’t forgive. Will you commit with me to doing this in 2023? Every day wake up and ask God to give you what you need to love your neighbor. Every day ask him to remove any prejudice he finds in you. Every day ask him to equip you for the journey of shining his love into this world.
Earlier I asked you to hold onto the person who came to your mind as not loveable, not forgivable. Lift that person up now. Ask God to help you with that person. I promise you, God already is in motion to change your heart. Helping you to love and forgive. So, Let’s go out and love as Jesus does. After all, as Advent people He is in us. Let’s pray.
Lord, you know our weaknesses. How we are prone to lose sight of you and turn our focus on the world. How the chaos and anger of the world creates fear in us and then we back away from loving as you would have us love. Strengthen us daily to step out in love and that we glorify you in our actions and the world will know that we are your people by how we love. Amen