26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a young woman engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The young woman’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by the angel’s words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his dominion there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am only a young woman?” 35 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.
36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God of Love,
Stir up your power,
And break in to our world.
Help us to be vessels of your love.
Loving and caring for this world
With the same love you have shown to us.
How do you show love?
What does love feel like to you?
How do you know when you’ve been the recipient of love?
There are lots of things that I love.
I love a good beer, especially the darker ones around this time of year. I love baked goods, which is usually a good thing around this time of year.
Unfortunately, neither of those things is particularly helpful on my diet, so I just don’t get to tell beer and baked goods how much I love them quite as often this year.
I love traveling…not doing much of that this year…
I love to cook for people…lots of cooking, not so much the other people part this year…
I love watching my kid learn something new…lots of that this year…
We use “love” as a pretty encompassing term in English. We use it often for things that we really, really, really like, or things that, you know, give us pleasure. We use “love” when we talk about people. But I wonder if the word “love” isn’t just a little watered down for us given that we use it in so many different scenarios.
The Greeks had 4 words for “love”, each describing a different kind of relationship.
The Spanish language has like 5 different ways of expressing love…there’s an attraction, a desire, a strong desire, a conditional liking, a way for saying that something pleases you, plus 1 or 2 others…
So what do we mean when we talk about love?
On the 4th Sunday of Advent, we typically talk about love. If you’ve been keeping score at home, we’ve gone through hope, peace, and joy, and now we’ve arrived at love. There’s a sense that as the days and weeks of Advent have gone on and built up, there’s a kind of pressure that building. When you stack anticipation and expectation one on top of another and add to it and stretch it out over 4 weeks, it builds and it builds and it builds…The waiting becomes less patient. The expectation becomes more pressing. The anticipation is more frenetic.
What might have started as a rather innocuous refrain of “Come, Lord Jesus” now becomes more impassioned, more pleading. Our cries to God have become more urgent as we’re now begging God to do the very thing that the prophet cried in the 1st week of Advent, “Rend the heavens and come down, O God”—rip open the very fabric between the earthly and the divine. Gentle choruses of “Comfort, my people” turn to earnest imploring of God “O Come, Emmanuel”—and do it quickly.
This is the rhythm of Advent.
This is what Advent does.
It’s a season of building anticipation.
But church, it’s not as if we don’t know what’s coming on Thursday night.
The urgent building of Advent doesn’t seek to deny that Christ is already born. In fact, I think Advent serves to reinforce that reminder. We’re forgetful people, and so we can get caught up in living as if God hasn’t already done the thing that we’re begging to do. In all our pleading with God, we forget that God has already ripped apart the veil between the earthly and the divine, come among us as an infant, already arrived…we forget that God has already done that, and charged us with living as if that’s true.
Because if we really believed that’s true, I have to believe…that we would live very differently.
God has already made God’s home among us.
Yet we look to the heavens for signs of God’s presence, instead of out…to our neighbors…to our friends…to our families…to the members of our communities…
In our reading we heard from 2 Samuel, God says to the king David, through the prophet Nathan, “Why do you want to build me a house? Why do you want to build a temple for God?” God had been traveling with the Israelites through the wilderness in a tent and a tabernacle. This was a God on the move. Why would you want to plant God in a box?
Besides, God says, I, the Lord, am going to make you a house—a family…a people—you and your house…the line and the family of David…will be established forever.
This God is not one to be boxed in.
And in our Gospel from Luke, Gabriel tells the young woman, Mary, that the child she will give birth to is to be called “child of God”, and this is the one to reign over the house of Jacob—the house of Israel—and of this kingdom there will be no end. In the child, Jesus, God has made God’s dwelling among God’s people. God’s holy habitation is in, with, and among God’s people. God’s house is the people of God.
This God is not one to be boxed in.
This is a deeply helpful reminder for me as I stand here and preach to an empty Sanctuary. I posted on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago a wide shot of the Sanctuary with Danny standing behind the camera with the caption: “The real behind-the-scenes of New Hope Lutheran Church.” and I commented under that that I used to love the stillness and quietness of an empty Sanctuary, but that I had grown to resent it over the past 9 months.
An empty Sanctuary used to be a place for me to calm my racing thoughts and a space that I could be in quiet conversation with God. Now it just reminds me of how much I long to see it full again.
Friends, I don’t need to tell you about all this pandemic has taken away from us. I grieve with you…truly, I do. This is not the kind of thing we study in seminary. There’s no course for surviving a pandemic. Mostly, we’re just making it up as we go along. Which sometimes is the best any of us can hope to do.
But reading these scriptures this week has renewed some spirit within me. I’m reminded that this building…these walls…have never been where God dwells.
These seats will be full again…in time. We will gather for worship again…once our sound system and live streaming cameras are finally installed and new COVID-19 case counts have come down from their astronomic levels. We will gather back here again…soon…but it won’t be because God is here.
It will simply again be the place that the people of God happen to gather.
The building is staying closed for now, but we are still worshiping.
The building is staying closed for now, but God is still being praised.
God’s dwelling place…where God resides…is among you.
You are the body of Christ.
So where do you see God in your neighbors…your friends…your families…the members of your communities…?
God is found in acts of love between people. Through ELCA Good Gifts providing a lifeline for folks in developing countries. Through Project SMILE making Christmas a reality for those who need an extra hand this holiday. Through our many projects with Armstrong Elementary, literally serving our neighbors, to inspire them to continue showing up for school, whether virtual or in-person, every day. Through the scholarships for the students at our sister congregation El Buen Pastor in El Salvador. Through a kind word, simply saying thanks, smiling with your eyes behind your mask…to those who are serving you through this pandemic…whether at the drive-thru or the grocery store, or the doctor’s office. Through sending thank you cards to our healthcare workers at Sugar Land Methodist or St. Luke’s or Hermann.
What other ways can you show God’s love?
What other ways can New Hope show God’s love in our neighborhood?
This isn’t rhetorical, I really want to know. If you have an idea for how we can be the hands and feet of Christ in our community if you have an idea of how we can show God’s love even more, would you let me know? Would you email me at email@example.com and tell me your idea.
I’d love to hear it.
Because that’s where God is found.
In the love shown and shared between people.