Last week’s sermon from our Hanging of the Greens service and the beginning of the Advent season! Time to break out the Christmas music! It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Praying that you all find Emmanuel in your midst …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
November 29, 2015
Celebrating Incarnational Love
I am starting to realize that I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.
You see, on the one hand, I love the myriad of ways that I use Facebook in my life and the ways that it actually brings me joy. I love having the ability to stay in touch with my family and friends all over the country, using it for the church, networking with colleagues and sharing pieces of my life.
But on the other hand, lately I have felt that something is missing.
This feeling of online relational inadequacy had been simmering over the past couple of months, but it started to make a little bit more sense to me a few weeks ago when I was reading Jen Hatmaker’s book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards. In a chapter titled Porches as Altars, Hatmaker reflected on her own struggle to find a balance with online and face-to-face relationships.
We live in a strange, unprecedented time when face-to-face relationships are becoming optional. It’s tricky, this new online connectivity, because it can become meaningful and true; it has given way to actual friendships I treasure. But it can also steal from friends on porches, the ones who truly know you, who talk about real life over nachos. Online life is no substitute for practiced, physical presence, and it will never replace someone looking you in the eye, padding around your kitchen in bare feet, making you take a blind taste test on various olives, walking in your front door without knocking. (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, page 115)
These words were very powerful for me, not only as a human being who values personal connections with other human beings, but also as a Christian leader and a woman of deep (and albeit flawed and complex at times) faith.
Human connections are one the strongest pieces of the foundation of our Christian faith. Jesus was incarnational proof that our God was not a distance God. Jesus was and still is a bold proclamation that God loves us so much that God came into the world that we live in – even with all of its imperfections – and lived in our midst, shared in our pain and suffering and understood humanity in its most raw form.
As human beings, we need to know that there are real people in our lives who know us and who understand what we are going through and who will walk with us as we are stumbling along our journeys through life. As people who come into this world with no instruction manual, we need incarnational relationships that help us put the pieces of our lives together.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Old Testament, from the prophet Jeremiah. This book recalls a time in Jerusalem in the 6th and 7th centuries BCE where human pain and suffering was very real. There was political unrest, foreign alliances were shifting, Jerusalem was destroyed and people were thrown into exile.
And yet, in the midst of this gigantic, human mess, God made a promise.
In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. (Jeremiah 33:16, NRSV)
Here’s the thing: God makes this same promise to us today.
Jeremiah was prophesying to people who were struggling in real and devastating ways; people who needed God to come into their midst and show them an overwhelming expression of incarnational compassion. People just like us.
Now I am not going to stand here today and try to get everyone in the Christmas spirit by talking about how wonderful the world is and how everyone should just put aside their struggles, grab a cup of eggnog and sing Christmas carols.
Because that is not what God did when God came into our midst through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God never pretended that things were better than they were. Jesus did not dance through his earthy life while showtunes played in the background; Jesus experienced real and true suffering. And it is not that I am happy that Jesus suffered, but this makes me believe that God gets it. God knows what we are feeling when we are crying out in agony; God understands our pain.
For many of us, 2015 has been a very challenging year. I have officiated at 19 funerals, with one more scheduled in December; far more than my average. Throughout the year, people in our community have faced devastating diagnoses and have struggled in real and heartbreaking ways. Loss has been great; stress has been even greater. Our country and our world has – again and again – experienced violence and tragedies. Our church community has faced its own ups and downs. Like the people Jeremiah was prophesying to so many years ago, we, too, need that promise from God:
That promise that God is with us in those moments when everything is falling apart around us.
That promise that God understands what true struggling feels like.
That promise that God will never abandon us.
We need that promise that God’s love is not a distant love, but a real and tangible and incarnational love. A love that burst forth into this world in a manger in Bethlehem while a star shone brightly in the east. A love that, in death, was resurrected to new life so that all might be saved. A love that is always, always, always with us.
I am sure that it would be easy for God to sit in heaven and look out over all of us on earth; to feel a distant compassion when we are suffering.
But time and time again, God has proven that that is not our God. God is not afraid to be with us in our suffering. God not only does not turn away from us when we need God most, but God draws closer to us when we need God most.
This is what we should be celebrating this time of year: Not just the fact that Jesus was born, but that when Jesus was born, God came into our midst, that God fulfilled an ancient promise that we will never be alone and that God is not afraid to get down and dirty with us, even when things are falling apart around us.
This truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Our sanctuary is ready. WE are ready. We are ready for Advent, we are ready for Christmas and we are ready for Emmanuel – God with us – to burst forth into our lives.
We are ready for an incarnational love that will bring us hope, peace, joy and love. We are ready for an incarnational love that can and will change the world.
Thanks be to God!