Love and Salvation: Hand in Hand

Sermon – 12-22-19 – Advent IV – Love – Cycle A
Scriptures: Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
Sermon Title: “Love and Salvation: Hand in Hand”

How easy is it to buy love? to find love? to keep love? to give love? to create love?

“I love you,” says Darren as he kisses Danielle. “I love you, too,” says Danielle to Darren exchanging another kiss. Should Danielle be saying, “How long, Darren, will your love for me last?” And, should Darren be saying, “How much do you love me, Danielle?”

As you have probably discovered yourself in heartache and disappointment and a life temporarily shattered, love is very elusive. We can’t buy it even though we try, to the dismay of our bank account which screams silently at us. We can’t seem to earn it because even though we try hard to control ourselves and to please the other person, something goes awry.

How about the giving side? Even though we try to keep our love steady and dependable, there comes a time when things get in the way such as our mood, our circumstances like the boss scolding us, like our car stopping in the middle of traffic and not being willing to move, like our finances wearing a red flag, or someone comes along in our lives who appeals to us, who catches a tiny spark of longing that is in us and we are drawn by this new feeling and our promised and committed love becomes second place. Unfaithfulness it is called.

This does not work. It simply does not work! The cost for wandering love is huge. If we forget for a minute that our children will carry loveless or hurtful experiences into adulthood, we are selfish. The mood in one person in a family is like spreading wildfire. Our way of reacting to insignificant occurrences or our way of reacting to big traumatic happenings can be modified if we care. Watch for the difference! Changing our tone of voice to a milder tone can make all the difference. Our reaction when mud is brought in the house or when something spills can help our family or damage our family.

What about the workplace? Can one person actually change the atmosphere in an office, in a warehouse, in a nuclear energy plant? Can a teacher change the future personalities of 30 students? Can a cashier in the grocery store help 200 people to have a better day?

Sometimes when there is a choice between using rules, using a loud voice, putting people down or using a loving approach, we find that the loving approach works marvelously. It works! No matter if we don’t feel loving. We can choose to have the attitude and the words that work! I have seen over and over how teachers, parents, day care workers use the “do it or else” style of controlling behavior when the opposite approach of lifting the child to a higher self-image, a satisfied feeling works so much better.

What about God’s rules? Are they too old? Did he give them to us as punishment? You see, God gave us the ten commandments not to punish us but so that life works, so that life falls into a good place for us! Then we have the two great commandments which are like a condensed version of the ten: We shall love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. I always wonder why “body” is not included here. Our minds may be of one intent but our bodies betray us. But there is more! We shall love each other as much as we love ourselves. I really aim for Jesus’ version which is “we shall love each other as much as Jesus loves us.” Of course, that will never be attainable for humans, but it is a goal. Besides, how many of us really love ourselves. Oh wait! I get it now! We may not genuinely and thoroughly be happy with ourselves but our first reaction in a situation may be selfish, self-centered. That’s how we love ourselves. We think of ourselves first. Maybe you are different. You may have been born with a tendency to always think of the other person first. You do not need to work at this discipline. It is in your nature.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those natural caring people. Whatever you see in me, God helped me to acquire as I matured through the many years. I have a long way to go until there is only a trace of selfishness in me. It is constant practice to develop this kind of love. I pray for it in my daily prayer. Just when I think I have it, I am surprised by a situation and my impulses return to selfish. I will need to grow and grow into this kind of love, totally unselfish. Are any of you like myself? Let us unite in our growing. Let us support each other in this love business. Not the selfish “I love you so much” variety but God’s kind of love.

God’s love is so great that we have the whole gospel in this one verse – John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Before Jesus could die on the cross, he was born 33 years earlier. The way he came to earth caused a bit of a stir in the local community. Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story from Joseph’s perspective. Mary has been away. Here she comes returning from her visit with cousin Elizabeth. It apparently is obvious that a child is about to be born to Mary. Joseph sees her.

“Oh, my,” Joseph says to himself. This is a problem, not to mention how sad and hurt I am. I dearly love Mary but this is not my baby! He decides to be kind to Mary and not make a public display about the whole thing. Then this angel appears while Joseph is sleeping! “Joseph,” the angel says, “Do not fear. This child who will be born of Mary is from the Holy Spirit. This is to be a privilege for you, not a punishment or disappointment. It is an honor. Name this baby Jesus.” Such love! We have the lovely song we just sang: “Gentle Joseph, Joseph dear . . .”

Here is the connection between the baby Jesus story of Christmas and the dying on the cross story of Good Friday and the resurrection story of Easter. The angel said that naming the baby “Jesus” means he will save his people from their sins. A Savior! Salvation for us, we who are sinners simply because we are human and not divine. We hurt people accidentally or even on purpose. We say unkind things. Our selfish nature plows right in as a natural reaction. We can even use the word “evil” for some of our actions. We are hurtful! We cause a hurtful reaction in the other person. Let us, instead, embark on the love walk to the cross to pay our honor to the one who was the adorable baby and is now truly our Savior! “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.”

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