Sermon: Advent Love – “Waiting in Welcome”

December 23, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 1:39-45

Advent Love – “Waiting in Welcome”

God is with us
Today we gather here to celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent. As we are getting closer to the coming of the Messiah, I can see how excited we are for our Christmas eve service and Christmas party after it. Although this is a time of celebration, let us not forget that there are people who can’t rejoice in this holiday as it can be a Blue Christmas to them… “How can we welcome and help people to rejoice in their lives” must be our concern for this Christmas season.

While meditating on todays’ scripture, I was thinking of the word, “welcome.” I believe welcome is a very proper term for the meaning of Christmas. The most marvelous event of Christmas in the Gospels is “Lord in heaven came to us as Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” God is with us because God welcomes us to his eternal fellowship through the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love; God is with us as we also welcome Christ our Savior into our hearts; God is with us as we extend our welcome to people in need.

God welcomes us
Our passage for this morning begins when “Mary visited Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth welcomed Mary” (v. 40). Elizabeth, the older one, was the wife of a priest Zechariah; she had been childless for long years; she must be in a shameful condition for her family and herself. When Mary visited her, she was now six-month pregnant with child (later named John), but at her old age, this must have been embarrassing. The younger one, Mary, was a poor and innocent girl from Nazareth, pregnant but not yet married to her fiancé Joseph. She probably needed time to get away from the eyes and tongues of people who knew her as a virgin, maybe even from Joseph. Anyway, Marry and Elizabeth were women without importance or with troubles in their lives and a far cry from most of the privileged people of all times.

Their social status somehow represents the miserable reality of Israel at their time. The Roman troops were everywhere to oppress the Israelites and thousands of people often appeared along the streets as they begged for food… In short, their times were bad, and everyone thought that they were going to get worse.

(And what is here today in our golden time to celebrate, as we also see many kinds of terrible accidents occurring randomly in our lives? We have to see that people we love get sick and die; our jobs and security are continually threatened; the future of children is uncertain; and the world has been torn apart by wars and terrors. It was then, and it is now, and it might be worse in the future. How can we rejoice in this time of uncertainty?)

In this world of violence and despair, according to our Gospel lesson for this morning, Mary visited Elizabeth, and they shared greetings and praised the Lord in joy and thanks! Considering their time and situations realistically, it might be nonsense or even foolish for them to sing for joy as they did in Luke’s Gospel. But this passage says that when Mary entered the house of Elizabeth, they could sing with joy! They celebrated their mysterious pregnancies (of God’s promise of salvation) inside of their house!

In one of the Hollywood movies in which Jim Carrey starred, the Grinch tried to steal Christmas by taking from the villagers all their Christmas decorations, all their trees, all their presents, and all their food that they enjoyed so much. And yet Christmas continued despite this theft because the villagers had Christmas inside them. As it was with the villagers in the film, so it was with Mary and Elizabeth, and so it can be and should be for us today as well.

In our history, those Grinches, those evil powers have kept on trying to steal our Christmas by looking at all the bad things, by destroying peace and joy in the world, and depressing our lives with shaky economy, high crime rates, and uncertain leadership in our country. But there in one thing that they couldn’t, cannot, and will never steal; that is our memory and faith deep in our hearts that “Jesus Christ our Savior was and is born in a broken and hopeless world to save his people from troubles.” No matter how bad our times are, nothing and nobody can steal our Emmanuel from our faith, even if we live in the worst of times. Halleluiah!

We welcome others
Back to the passage… Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth welcomed her, and they could celebrate their time together inside of their house. As expected in any culture, it is always a happy time when our families come to visit. We hear the bell ringing and our kids run with excitement to the door, shouting, “They’re here…” You are also happy to open the door and welcome them in your house. As everybody gathers in, you move on to have a Christmas party inside of your house!

Interestingly, when Elizabeth welcomed Mary at the door, her baby in her womb was also excited with Mary’s visit. Elizabeth shouted, “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy” (v. 44). Elizabeth already knew that the baby carried by Mary is her Lord and Savior. Let me apply this powerful Advent image to our Sunday service… When we see people entering our church and joining in our worship, aren’t we excited to see them? The one who has Christ in one’s heart is coming in… don’t you feel your heart leap for joy?

Yet I still wonder what made Marry visit Elizabeth; what kind of emotion did she have when she visited Elizabeth? We know what happened to her before she went to see Elizabeth; she had a life changing encounter with an angel: “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’” (v. 35). How overwhelmed, frightened, anxious, confused, thrilled, awed, or even hopeful she was!!! Based on her mysterious experience, we can assume that it caused her to hurry to meet her cousin Elizabeth, so at least she could share her complicated emotion with a trusted confidant.

Mary entered the house. Probably she hoped that this was a place where she would be welcomed and comforted. Every Sunday, people walk through the door of a church probably because they hope they will be welcomed. When we welcome any visitors, however, we should know that they don’t just walk up to a church for no reason. They come because they are in need; they come because they have something in their hearts or in their lives and they want to be touched by our greetings and God’s words.

Throughout the images of those two unprivileged women, “Mary and Elizabeth,” the Gospel of Luke emphasizes God’s concern for the lowly, the disadvantaged, the broken-hearted… and it inspires us to become more mindful of ministries with and for the excluded. I hope we take this lesson as a way to acknowledge and warmly welcome those who visit our church, those we meet in our paths, those who are thirsting for love, fellowship, help, and counsel.

God enters into our hearts
Mary entered the house of Elizabeth and Elizabeth welcomed her. Welcome is the way we celebrate our Christmas! The Good News is that those Grinches out there, no matter how evil they are, can never steal our Christmas from us, and rather we can give birth to hope, peace, joy and love in this broken and hurting world waiting for God’s salvation and healing mercy upon it.

Yet, to make it more meaningful, we as recipients of Emmanuel should welcome our neighborhoods, especially those who are suffering the most during the holidays. God is with us because God enters into our hearts; God is with us as we also welcome Christ our Savior into our hearts; God is with us as we extend our welcome to people in need. Amen.

Sermon: The Gift of Love

The Gift of Love
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
RUMC 14 Feb 2016

One major theme of music that is produced today is love.  And on this Valentine’s Day, what I would like to do is show you a music video of a well-known love song from the Beatles.  It is called “All You Need is Love.  This is an illustration of how society uses the example of love in music.

Love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love, love
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy
Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
Love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love, love
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
Nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown
Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be
It’s easy
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
All you need is love (All together, now!)
All you need is love (Everybody!)
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need (10x)

 

That should bring back some memories.  If you listen carefully, many of the songs that we listen to in our daily lives are about the good feelings of love.

Not surprisingly, the Bible has a lot to say about the subject of love and how it can make a difference in our lives.  My text is 1 Corinthians 3:1-13, otherwise known as the love chapter and you will see that love is a verb of action.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant  5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
This is the word of GodThanks be to God.

When the Apostle Paul wrote 1st Corinthians 13, he wrote from jail.  It is incredible that he would try to write something as inspirational as this was passage of scripture in such a difficult place, but he did and was able to show what genuine love is and isn’t.

When we use the word “love” it is done in the same way we talk about our favorite dessert or how we feel about a special person.  For example, some people might say:  I love apple pie.  I love to watch old movies.  I love my new car.  I love my family.

In the movie, My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, who received voice lessons from Mr. Henry Higgins, cried out in frustration and said, “Words, words, words.  I’m so tired of words.  I get words all day from you.  Don’t talk to me of stars above.  If you are in love with me, show me.”  And that is what the Apostle Paul did when he said:  I will show you a more excellent way.

What I would like to do is focus on three aspects of love found in verse 7:

  • Love always protects
  • Love always trusts
  • Love always hopes.

1 Corinthians 13:7a–Love always protects.

From the days of Oliver Cromwell, the legendary English ruler, a young soldier had been convicted of some crimes and was sentenced to death.  The young man was to be shot at the ringing of the curfew bell.  When his fiancé heard he was about to be executed, she secretly climbed up into the bell tower, and tied herself to the huge clapper of the giant curfew bell.  When it was time to ring the bell, only muffled sounds were heard.  Cromwell demanded to know what went wrong.  So he sent several soldiers to investigate and what they found was a young woman tied to the bell clapper, cut and bloodied.  When the soldiers brought this woman to the general, he was impressed with her willingness to protect her loved one.  Cromwell pardoned the soldier, and he was released.

You see, love protects our loved ones from harm.  Sometimes love has to bear the pain of another.  If necessary, it will carry the weight of other’s burdens.  We often see this when one spouse has to care for the other or an adult child has to care for an elderly parent, especially if they cannot walk and need to use a wheelchair.  To get in and out of bed, get them to the bathroom; take them to doctor’s appointment and to church.  In these cases, love is more than a feeling, but a verb of action.

1 Corinthians 13:7b–Love always trusts.

Richard Hoyt of Holland Massachusetts is a 75 year old widower who lives with his 54 year old son Rick Jr.  His son is disabled with cerebral palsy.  Even though he cannot walk or speak normally, he is very intelligent.  When Rick was 15 years old, he and his father participated in a 5 mile benefit run where the father ran and pushed his son in the wheel chair.  After the race, Rick told his father, “Dad, when I am running, it feels like I am not handicapped.”  For the next 30+ years, Rick and his father participated in over 1000 races–including 30 Boston Marathons, a number of triathlons and the Iron man.  They even biked across the USA.  The father recently retired from competitions, so someone else now takes Rick on runs.

But for father and son to have accomplished what they had done in the races, there had to be trust.  Rick Jr had to trust that his dad would not put him in harm’s way, but to do the things that would be in his son’s best interest.  They are a team.  You see love believes the best about people and gives the benefit of doubt.  Again, love is more than a noun or an adjective, but it is a verb of action.

In all relationships, trust is needed, but more so when one of the partners is physically dependent.  I am reminded of one 87 year old man in a nursing home; he trusted that his wife would come visit him every afternoon.  When they did get together, they didn’t talk much; they didn’t have to.  They just sat together and that was enough.

1Corinthians 13:7c–Love always hopes

Prior to the Civil War, like many young people in that era, a young man and women had become engaged.  When hostilities began, the man was drafted into the army and their wedding was postponed until after the war.  Throughout the war, this young soldier wrote many letters, until he was severely wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia.  Suddenly the letters stopped.  His bride did not suspect anything as she read and reread his letters and counted the days when he would return.  Finally she received a letter, but it was written in an unfamiliar handwriting.  It read, “There has been another terrible battle.  It is very difficult for me to tell you this, but I have lost both my arms.  I cannot write myself.  So a friend is writing this letter for me.  While you are as dear to me as ever, I feel I should release you from the obligation of our engagement.”  The young fiancé never answered that letter.  Instead she took the next train and went directly to the military hospital.  When she found her lover, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.  She said, “I will never give you up.  These hands of mine will help you.  I will take care of you.”

This past week, I was with an elderly couple in their home where one spouse needed a lot of assistance.  What struck me was the care, the cheerfulness, the stronger spouse had for the other.

Bishop Devadhar once told this story to a group of ministers:  There was a wedding where the minister stood before a couple who were deeply in love.  The pastor made the following comments in his wedding sermon.  “You can’t imagine this today, but there will come a day when the two of you will be frustrated with each other.  You may not feel like you love one another.  You may not even feel like you like each other in the moment.  But that is when you need to believe that despite all these feelings, that deep down, you truly love each other and to not let other things get in the way.”

The Beatles were correct when they sang “All you need is love”, but for love to work, it has to be a verb of action where we are able to protect, to trust, and hope–just as the woman who tied herself to a bell clapper, or the sacrifice Richard Hoyt Sr. made to race with his son, or the finance who frantically searched for her loved one.  I would like to show you a video that was produced by a Thailand Insurance company; in it, a man puts love into action.  During our service, we followed this video with an open discussion; I hope you will continue it here online.