God’s Love in the UCC’s Christmas Fund
Guest: Rev. Dave Long-Higgins
This year during Advent we are focusing on some ministries that we think exemplify the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. During this season we anticipate that the Christ who came once as a baby will one day come again in glory to remake the world so that it is once again as God intends it to be. We long for that day. And we know that God invites us, asks us, even requires us to get busy right now doing all we can to spread God’s hope and peace and joy and love. here and now.
This morning’s theme is love and in a few minutes Rev. Dave Long-Higgins and I are going to talk about the offering we are receiving this morning, which is for the United Church of Christ’s Christmas Fund. But before we do let’s read the Bible.
These verses are from the gospel of John chapter 1. Which means, if you’re paying attention, we’ve jumped a long way from where we were in Isaiah last week. The gospels are much more familiar for most people than the Old Testament. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we understand the background of the gospels. On January 2nd, we’re going to do a full introduction to the gospel of John because we’re going to study this one gospel from now until Pentecost probably. But this morning, I do want you to know what happened to the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. You may remember I’ve said before, the northern kingdom of Israel was wiped out by the nation of Assyria in 722 BCE. The southern kingdom of Judah was taken over by Babylon. You remember they had a failed rebellion in 597 and the leaders of the rebellion were taken away to the city of Babylon. Eleven years later the Babylonians come back and destroy everything. They lay siege to Jerusalem and try to starve the people to death. Finally the Babylonians break through the walls of Jerusalem. They slaughter a lot of people. The capture the royal family and kill the queen and the children and then poke the king’s eyes out but don’t kill him so that as long as he lives, the last thing he remembers seeing is the murder of his family. And then they destroy the temple. Like, totally destroy it. They take a bunch more rich and powerful people back to Babylon and leave the farmers and laborers in this desolated land. The Bible keeps following the story of the people who were taken away to Babylon.
But friends no empire lasts forever. All empires are eventually overthrown. Babylon is eventually defeated by Persia and the king of Persia is happy to let the ancient Hebrews go home. Now this is 70 years after they were captured so only a few people even remember “home.” Some of them do go back and with the support of the King of Persia they somewhat rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and they kind of build a temple although it’s not nearly as grand as Solomon’s temple was. So after all those prophecies about how great it’s going to be when everyone comes home … not everyone comes home … and it’s really not that great.
Which leads the people to believe that those prophecies were about something more than just this homecoming. That maybe they are waiting for another type of homecoming, another type of restoration, another liberator. And friends, they live with that anticipation shaping their community for 500 years until Jesus arrives. But even when he does, he still doesn’t look like what they expected their Liberator to be like and to do. Each of the gospels, in their own way, puts Jesus in the perspective of the larger story of God’s people, trying to demonstrate how he is the culmination of their expectations, even though, yet again, this “homecoming” and “restoration” and “liberation” don’t look like what they expected. Honestly, in the natural world, it doesn’t yet look like what the prophets promise. So you can see why Jews today are still waiting. Because truly Jesus didn’t do what the prophets led them to expect. You have to read the prophets non-literally if you want to see Jesus as the fulfillment. OK? Make sense?
So, the gospel of John. This is one person’s attempt to situate Jesus in the larger story. And out of all the apostles, John does the most to put Jesus in the really big story, as you will see. Let’s read it. This is John chapter 1 verses 1 through 18 and I’m reading from the Common English Bible.
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning.
Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being.
What came into being
through the Word was life,
and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
The true light that shines on all people
was coming into the world.
The light was in the world,
and the world came into being through the light,
but the world didn’t recognize the light.
The light came to his own people,
and his own people didn’t welcome him.
But those who did welcome him,
those who believed in his name,
he authorized to become God’s children,
born not from blood
nor from human desire or passion,
but born from God.
The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified about him, crying out, “This is the one of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than me because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace;
as the Law was given through Moses,
so grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
God the only Son,
who is at the Father’s side,
has made God known.
This the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
So this week’s Advent theme is love. Did you count how many times the word “love” shows up in that passage? ZERO. But you know where I see love in this? In verse 14: the Word became flesh and made his home among us. Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message says “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” The theological word for this is “incarnation.” Carne, like meat. In-carnation, in flesh. Christians talk a lot about God’s love being shown on the cross, but there is just as much love shown in the manger. At Christmas we celebrate the shocking reality that God showed up for us. Friends, love means showing up.
<see video or listen to podcast for Pastor Beth’s conversation with Rev. Dave Long-Higgins>