On Falling in Love With God
December 24, 2023
Isaiah 50: 4-5
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards.
Matthew 1: 18-24
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called ‘Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.
Today’s sermon is titled On Falling in Love With God.
I am so glad that Christmas eve fell on a Sunday this year. I thought it would be a long time before Christmas eve would fall on a Sunday again, but it will only be five more years, in 2028. 2028 will be another presidential election year. I pray by then that Ukraine’s former borders will be restored and secure. I pray by then that Israelis and Palestinians will be well-established, each with their own territory and representative democratic governments, and with a growing respect for the lives of one another. I pray that by 2028 we will have begun to see some degree of stabilization in the all-to-rapid changes in our climate, and we will have begun to see a decrease in gun violence because of legislation, and a decrease in poverty because we will finally have health care for all and drug use will be at an all-time low. By the time we gather again for Christmas Eve on a Sunday, I pray that we as a nation will have undergone sweeping immigration reform and we will be a nation reunited, recognizing our ethnic diversity as our greatest strength in a true democracy.
Friends, I see so clearly the outlines of a brighter future for us all and our greatest obstacle in manifesting it is lack of hope. Lack of hope leads to a lack of vision, and lack of vision leads to inaction. So as we are here together, in this moment of Christmastide, when the re-birth of the Christ child is imminent, I invite us to uncover the embedded messages of hope that this ancient story offers us. Those messages of hope empowered a movement 2000 years ago, a social and religious movement that is still unfolding today; some of us see the movement is gaining momentum. It is a movement of people falling in love with God, again. I say “again” because there have been similar waves in the long history of humankind when great advancements were made. If we think of God as the force that moves us, relentlessly, towards wholeness, justice, unity and peace, then we see that it was in times of our greatest advancements as humans that we were also falling in love with God, again.
Over 2000 years ago, through a series of unexplainable events in the lives of one family in ancient Palestine, hope was restored in the hearts and minds of people living under oppression by the Roman Empire. Hope was restored through the births of two babies, second cousins, Yohanan and Yeshua, (translated as John and Jesus) and the mysterious phenomena that ushered them into our world. These babies were not born in royal households of the powerful elite. John was born to a priest and his wife serving the poorest community in the region, and Jesus was born to a couple newly wedded who would have to soon flee as immigrants to a foreign land to avoid the king’s persecution. The mysterious events surrounding the birth of John and Jesus included messages of hope that God was still with them, even in times of oppression.
The messages of hope that ring out still across the centuries can help to guide our way into a brighter future for all of humankind. The messages are as follows:
1) Listen and learn. From the prophet Isaiah this morning we heard, “Morning by morning [the Lord God] awakens my ear to listen as one who is being taught.
2) Do not fear. Over and over again, in the birth narratives of John and Jesus, the message comes to “Fear not.” The message comes to the priest, Zechariah, to Mary, to Joseph, and to the shepherds. Fear not, because fear cripples our hope. Fear robs us of trust and faith in one another and in our collective future.
3) This is good news for all people. The embodiment of God’s love is a gift to all. It is not the property of one religion or one culture. The gift of God’s love is not earned; it is offered. Two thousand years ago the gift came in the form of a tiny baby so we could fall in love with God, again and again and again.
4) Nothing shall be impossible with God. When we look around at all the violence and madness, the problems can seem insurmountable. We are reminded that nothing shall be impossible with God. We have come so far over the millenia if we stop to think about it. We have developed a legal framework, an evolving democracy, and advocacy for human rights. I believe it is God that is the force driving us, as I said before, “driving us relentlessly towards wholeness, justice, unity and peace.” Nothing shall be impossible with God.
If we combine these four messages of hope, this is what we have: Listen and learn, do not fear; this is good news for all people: nothing shall be impossible with God. But what are we, as individuals, to do exactly? Again, if we take our lessons from the birth stories and the examples we see in Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the Magi, we should seize our power as individuals to support goodness, to support God-ness, wherever we find it in the world, and then share it.
One of my favorite columnists, David Brooks, recently wrote a book titled How to Know a Person. In it he describes the responsibility that each one of us bears in creating the kind of world we want to live in. He writes that in every moment, we face the choice of whether we will act as a “diminisher” or an “illuminator.” He writes, “Some people are much better at seeing people than others are. In any collection of humans, there are diminishers and there are illuminators. Diminishers are so into themselves, they make others feel insignificant. They stereotype and label. If they learn one thing about you, they proceed to make a series of assumptions about who you must be. Illuminators, on the other hand, have a persistent curiosity about other people. They have been trained or have trained themselves in the craft of understanding others. They know how to ask the right questions at the right times — so that they can see things, at least a bit, from another’s point of view. They shine the brightness of their care on people and make them feel bigger, respected, lit up.”
In closing, as we move through this season of Christmastide, we are invited to fall in love with God again. Through reliving the birth of the Christ child, we remember that not all things can be explained. We remember that there is a force at work guiding humankind towards wholeness, justice, unity and peace. We remember that there is cause to hope because we can create a better future; humankind has been doing it for millenia already. May we be illuminators, not diminishers. May we fall in love with God, over and over again, not just at Christmas, but every day. So be it. Amen.
In the stillness of winter, we open our hearts to the love and the light that is Christ. In him, God offers us all that is most precious- all the unseen, the invisible…the sadness that deepens us, the compassion that connects us, the unexpected joy that restores us, the pain that humbles us, and the divine love that knows no bounds. May we take this moment to give ourselves back to God, back to the source from where our spirits come. From this state of surrender, comes a union with the Holy Spirit, and through this union all that is holy, and from God, can pass through us to others- we are made strong and can offer strength, we are given vision and can offer clarity, we experience a love like no other and we can then love with a love that transcends all differences. We are so grateful, Lord, for all we have been given. Through your grace, we can celebrate our abundance. For all those traveling, we pray for safety; for all those struggling, we pray for serenity; for the dying, surrender; for the fearful, faith and peace. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. All this I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
I leave you with these words by an anonymous author:
May your heart be prepared as a manger
for the love that is God to find rest.
May your minds be open as the star-filled sky
For the Christ child is coming to bless you.