For the third Sunday in Advent, I shared a digital sermon at Pennington Assembly of God. My theme: love.
Preaching on a topic as broad and well-worn as love brings its challenges. It is simultaneously the very character of God (I John 4:8), a great and lasting thing (I Corinthians 13:13), and a term overused that and stuffed with sentimentality. That last bit can make it difficult to grab the attention of hearers.
One of my common thoughts about love is this: people do not love "in general." Not really. Not in ways that matter. Love, as a sentiment, can be effervescent and empty. Appearing to mean something, but really so vague and disconnected as to have little meaning. Love "in general" is therefore not really worth that much.
The only way that love has tangible existence is in specific and enacted ways. Think of it--think of someone who loves you. How do they do that? By sentiment only, or by specific and enacted ways? How do you show love--real love--to someone else? In specific, not in general. And that's the thing--when we truly love we do not love generically. We show it in particular ways.
God shows the way forward in the specificity of love. In the Advent season, we look back to the gift of God in Christ. The very act of incarnation--God taking of flesh--is evidence of love. As we consider the later ministry of Jesus, in His caring for others, we can see more distinct examples of love. Later in His story, each of the gospels recount the Cross--an act in which Christ powerfully reveals and embodies love for us.
Remembering the acts of God's love for us can have the effect of spurring us on in love. It is, in a sense, how some choose to interpret the season of gift-giving we embrace each December. I hope it is bigger than just that, though. For there are so many more places to show specific and enacted love than in just the giving of gifts at Christmastime. There are the needs of the everyday, the ways we can care big and small, and all sorts of places where we can express love for those close to us as well as those more distant.
The love of God we remember and which motivates us to embrace acts of love in the here and now also points us forward. The culmination of God's love, we might say, comes to us at the redemption of all things, The book of Revelation reminds us that the ultimate work involves "making all things new" (Revelation 21:5). It is a big, powerful, statement of the way in which God is righting all things in his love and justice.
Lest we be tempted to think that this is merely a generic announcement of things, just one verse before that there is something more specific. In Revelation 21:4, we read that the same God who controls the universe and makes all things new is also a work in a more personal way: "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes..."
This, of course, is the God who is there. The God whose love motivated the Incarnation, who worked in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. The God whose love beckons to us now and calls us to be transformed into agents of embodied and particular acts of love. The God whose love wipes tears--the final tears--from my eyes and yours. That's a God who loves in specific ways...and I am thankful for such love.