Love Came Down at Christmas, Part 2
Dec 29, 2019
At least three things are odd about today’s readings.
First, they are out of order; that which is described in the Gospel reading takes place after the arrival of the Magi, which will be our focus next Sunday when we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord.
Second, it’s just a few days after our celebration of Jesus’ birth, an event filled with goodness and light, not to mention an angelic chorus accompanied from a distance by lowing cattle, scenes which we paint with words and pictures over and over and over again. Yet, today, we are confronted with scenes we would rather forget – the escape by Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Egypt and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents – hardly a heart-warming Christmas tale.
The third odd thing about today’s readings is the inclusion of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As I noted on Christmas Eve, when we heard the first three verses, this is a passage that often is read at weddings, sometimes at funerals and every few years in worship, but not at Christmas. Yet, it’s appropriate to share what’s known as “the love chapter” because love came down at Christmas, which is our theme this Christmas season. Jesus is THE example of sacrificial love.
In today’s four verses, the Apostle Paul, writing to the Christian Church in Corinth, where there is a conflict and competition among the believers, describes what love is and is not.
It is not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, self-centered, irritable, or resentful. It is patient and kind. It seeks the truth and rejects wrongdoing. Love bears (puts up with) all things and endures all things (sticks out difficulty). It believes and hopes in all things (always trusts and is confident in God’s love).
Since Jesus is THE example of love, it follows that when Jesus was among us, he did and did not do these things. More significantly, a follower of Jesus can be identified by whether he or she does or does not strive to live/love in these ways.
If I stopped now, it would be a blessedly short sermon, but we still would have a lot to consider when it comes to how we live and how we love. However, I want to go back to the disconcerting Gospel lesson for today.
It’s important to realize that Jesus was not exempt from the fear, violence, suffering of this world, even from his earliest days. There were brutal leaders then, as there are now, especially King Herod. His furor was fueled by envy and insecurity and was so great that thousands of innocent children, identified by the church as the “Holy Innocents,” were murdered in his attempt to eliminate the rumored recently born King.
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, directed by God, fled, and became refugees in Egypt. They remained there until Herod died and it was safe to return to Israel, but not to Judea since Joseph feared Herod’s replacement, but to Galilee, a town called Nazareth.
All this is a reminder of the consequence of humanity not being filled with or directed by love. But, it also points to God’s providence and protection in dark moments. It reminds us, writes Dr. David Lose, that “nothing that happens to Jesus, or by extension, to us – is beyond the bounds of God’s love and activity and can be redeemed and even used by God.” (1) That’s possible because love came down at Christmas.
Twice a month, I lead worship services at St. Edward’s Retirement Community, one in the independent/assisted living area and the other in nursing care. Since I’m not an in-tune singer, we don’t sing hymns, but sometimes we read the lyrics, which often is an eye-opener to their significance.
Take, for example, the lyrics of the Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the second half of verse one: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Contemplate what that means … from the beginning of time people have struggled with the fear of death and hoped for freedom from the power of sin/evil and eternal life. That hope was fulfilled in Jesus. And since that’s the case, we can be assured that God’s on-going power and presence will constantly be with us.
Sinclair B. Ferguson writes that the logic of this is this: if you spend a large amount of money for a vacation, but then discover there is an additional cost to get you from the airport to your destination, you are not going to turn back. Since you have already paid so much, you will pay the extra. So, if God has sent his Son for us, you can be assured that God’s love will be an on-going reality.
Just as God was with the Holy Family in the midst of fear and insecurity, God also is with us. And just as their trauma culminated in new beginnings, so it can be for us. The details of the Gospel lesson point to the imperfections of life, the truth of injustice, violence, and loss, but also it points out the consequences of love as God enters the human drama and ultimately defeats the power of evil.
Jesus is love – as we did on Christmas Eve, I invite you to join me in reading the four verses of 1 Corinthians 13 printed in your bulletin (on the screen), but replace the word love or it with “Jesus.”
Jesus is patient; Jesus is kind; Jesus is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way; Jesus is not irritable or resentful; Jesus does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
And, since love came down, by God’s power and presence, so can we. AMEN
(1) “Christmas 1A: Just in Time” by Dr. David Lose, December 26, 2016, www.davidlose.com
(2) Love Came Down at Christmas by Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Good Book Company, 2018, pgs. 106-107