Damariscotta Baptist Church
Saturday, June 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

11/26/17 Sermon - The Star: A Journey of Love

The Star: A Journey of Love

[Show Love Bumper video.]

Welcome to the second Sunday of Advent. I realize we are weeks ahead of the rest of the world in celebrating Advent, but it fits into our calendar best this way. It just means that we are preparing for the “coming” of Jesus’ birth a bit longer this year. We are following the Star, this year as we journey through the meanings of the candles in the Advent wreath. Last week we considered how Jesus brings us “hope.” This week’s candle represents “love”. So together we continue to look for the light as we follow the star on this journey of love. The star signals the brightest love, the love that never gives up, the love that conquered sin and death, the love that surrounds us daily and fills us eternally. Perfect love. God’s love embodied.

As we continue our exploration this morning, let me ask you a few questions and see a show of hands:

How many of you are finished with all your Christmas shopping?

How many of you haven’t even started?

How many of you plan to just skip the whole shopping thing and go straight to the Christmas dinner?

Well, wherever you stand on Christmas gift shopping and giving, Americans spend a lot of money on Christmas. Retail sales from November 2016 through January 2017 were projected to be $1 trillion![1]

But while that number is a bit mind-blowing, here is another fun number for you: $60 billion. That’s how much Americans spent on their pets last year.[2] Which leaves me with one question: Why?!?! Don’t get me wrong—I love a cat, dog, fish, or lizard as much as the next person, but $60 billion!?! For animals that really just cause a lot of trouble—we walk them, clean up after them, vacuum up the hair, take allergy pills, clean the tank, apologize to the neighbors . . . Really, our pets should be paying us.

But we love them, so we spend our hard-earned money and time caring for them. It’s not because of anything they’ve done for us, but simply because we love them.

Okay, I admit this is not an exact comparison. (Please don’t leave here thinking that I’m telling you God loves us like we love our dogs.) But the example does start us down the path of recognizing some things about love.

As we do, let me ask you to consider several questions: How do you perceive God’s love for you? Do you feel you need to earn it? Do you wonder if God’s love is reaching you? You check in with Him when things are difficult and don’t feel a thing so you wonder if He really cares. Or, Do you see the overflow of God’s love in your own life toward others?

Let’s dive deep today into the love of God as we explore a love that caused Him to enter our world through His Son that first Christmas. A love that was present from the creation of the world is enough for each and every one of us and is meant to overflow in our lives.

1. Love from the Start

We often talk about Christmas as the time “when love came down.” We say God’s love entered the world as a baby. And that is all true. But we would be mistaken if we didn’t take a longer view, a view back in time to the beginning of the world. The history of our world, the story of the Bible, is a love story from the first day of creation. It is the story of God’s love for His people and His plan of redemption to bring us back into relationship with Him.

God is not some distant uncle who suddenly shows up with a gift nobody knows what to do with. Nor is He a cold and miserly distant figure grudgingly offering us an occasional token. Yes, love came crashing into that stable in Bethlehem. But Jesus’s birth was the culmination of a long history of love. And His love for us today, this Advent season, is not something new.

The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians:  “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:4–6).

God’s love does not depend on us. It’s not something we have to earn or perform for to maintain. It starts with God, not us. God is love. It is His nature and character. His love for us was there from the beginning of time and will continue throughout eternity.

It can be a mind-boggling concept to grasp. But as we pursue the journey of love, let me encourage you to simply accept that God’s love for us exists beyond the constraints of time, space, and our limited understanding. It’s a love worth focusing on, meditating on, and basking in during this season of preparation.

2. Love Enough

But do you ever have a hard time loving God? Do you ever have a hard time accepting His love for you? Do you ever doubt that His love is enough to cover all the pain, hurt, selfishness, and evil of our world? Or that His love is enough to cover the pain or hurt in your own heart?

If we’re honest, I think most all of us would have to answer yes to all those questions, and some of us more than others. Despite what we may know in our heads or believe in our hearts, there is a daily struggle to live in the reality of God’s love for us. It’s so different from our own ability to love. It may be vastly different from the love—or lack of it—that you’ve experienced in your human relationships and life overall.

Let me remind you of some good news this morning—the best news. God. Loves. You.

Not because of anything you’ve done or have to do. Not for today but then He’s going to take it all back tomorrow. Not like the father or mother or spouse or ex-spouse or friend or enemy who let you down or hurt you or abused you or twisted the concept or guise of love to inflict damage or pain or heartache that can seem so hard to heal from or let go of.

God loves you purely, perfectly, wholly, lavishly. You don’t have to earn points to muster up love from God. He pours love out on us—no matter how unlovable or unworthy we may feel. And He pours out love unendingly.

Think of the Christmas story characters. They didn’t fit into the “most lovable people” box. They were a bewildered, young, average, and humble engaged couple, a band of smelly shepherds, a group of foreign mystics. Dig a little deeper behind the bathrobes and kid animal costumes of the typical Christmas pageant scene and you get the picture.

Where would you fit into the scene on that Bethlehem night so long ago?

Where do you find yourself now in this season of long, dark, and cold winter nights? No matter where you are on the journey, God’s love is for you. It is more vast and perfect than you can ever fully and completely grasp this side of heaven—but so worth opening your heart and mind and soul to receive and be drawn ever deeper into.

Maybe that was a little like the prayer the apostle Paul offered for the Ephesians when he wrote, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17–19).

God’s love is deep and wide and long and high. And it doesn’t change even if our feelings do. Even when we feel distant from God’s love, He is there beside us.

The people of Israel must have felt abandoned many times. They must have struggled to believe that God still loved them when it took so long for the promise of a Messiah to be fulfilled. But even when they grew weary of waiting and questioned God, His love never failed. It was there all along to carry and sustain them through uncertainty. And in the right timing, God’s love delivered its full culmination in the birth and person of Jesus, God made flesh, love come down among us. Jesus was God’s love with skin on.

Nothing can shake that love. Nothing can tear us away from it. And it will never fail us now as we wait for Jesus’s coming—figuratively through the Advent season and literally until He returns to earth to complete His ultimate work.

In Romans, Paul gave us a description worth clinging to when we struggle or doubt or simply need a hopeful reminder:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).

3. Love Overflows

Does anyone have company coming this Christmas? Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles? Christmas is such a wonderful time to be together. But here’s the real question—will anyone be sick of their relatives or guests after day three of their visit?

It’s the very nature of God’s unending and unlimited love that it cannot be contained. God doesn’t want it to be contained. The Bible tells us to love others, even the people who seem unlovable. Sometimes that is easy, and sometimes it’s the hardest thing in the world.

And getting back to those holiday houseguests—sometimes the unlovable are the people closest to us. They can be the people we truly love most but who also have the most power to drive us crazy, remind us of our weaknesses, and even bring up our deepest pain.

So on a very practical level, this Advent journey of love is about God’s love in us overflowing to others. In reality, that’s not something we can do—or do for long—on our own effort. It must come from the source of love, and it can. The Living Bible nicely paraphrases Peter’s description of that: “Now you can have real love for everyone because your souls have been cleansed from selfishness and hatred when you trusted Christ to save you; so see to it that you really do love each other warmly, with all your hearts” (1 Peter 1:22, tlb).


That doesn’t mean it is easy, but it shifts our focus from trying hard to love others to experiencing the depth of God’s love in a way that allows it to overflow in our life to the people around us.

But let me challenge you as well to walk in God’s love as it penetrates and changes your heart. This journey of love is not simply about words or even the feelings of acceptance—it is also a journey of action and truth. The gift of God’s Son that we celebrate was God putting love into action through Jesus. His love is an overwhelming love that calls and moves us to similar action. First John 3:16 tells us, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Advent and Christmas can be an easy season to put this similar love into practice. Yet in many ways, it can be even more difficult. But as we prepare our hearts expectantly and purposefully for our celebration of Christ’s arrival, let us also put into practice His love flowing through us. Will you allow His love to penetrate and overflow your heart as you abide with the source of all love this Advent season?

Prayer: God, thank You that in this season of Advent, You invite us to follow the star on a journey of love. Help us to experience the depth of Your love, which has been there from the start, is enough for all of us, and overflows in our lives to others. Please continue to fill us with expectation as we live in Your love and wait for the complete fulfillment of that love when Christ comes again. Amen.

Benediction: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17–19)





 


 

[1] Rod Sides, “Deloitte Holiday Survey: Ringing in the Retail,” October 25, 2016, https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/industry/retail-distribution/holiday-retail-sales-consumer-survey.html?id=us:2em:3na:holiday:dup3524:awa:cip:102616; Bryan Pearson, “Holiday Spending to Exceed  $1 Trillion—And 11 Other Surprising Data Points of Christmas,” Forbes.com, December 22, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanpearson/2016/12/22/holiday-spending-to-exceed-1-trillion-and-11-other-surprising-data-points-of-christmas/#6a5853ee247f.

[2] Michelle Castillo, “Americans Will Spend More Than $60 Billion on Their Pets This Year,” NBCNews.com, July12, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/americans-will-spend-more-60-billion-their-pets-year-n390181.