This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on December 6, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
One of the many reasons I’m proud to be a part of this church, is our commitment to love of all kinds. Are we perfect at this? No. Do we grow and work to be better? I believe so. The last few months, I’ve been branching out onto other social medias, and reaching people who haven’t been to church in years, or have been turned away from their home churches, or had friends who have, etc. Each person I’ve encountered has had a story of being excluded from a faith community, because there were conditions on their acceptance. I hear from people every day who were told they couldn’t go to church because they were *blank* or they didn’t know you could be a Christian and be *blank*. The Bible and faith in general has been a source of harm for so many of us, yet there’s a comfort in it for many too, which is why some choose to go back or stay.
Here at MHUMC, our mission statement is “Loving God by Loving All”, and I for one am proud of that, because our love and inclusion for others is a sign of our love for God. In our rich history, we’ve loved people in a variety of ways. The love we showed a hundred years ago reflected the needs at the time. And then as our history progressed, the ways we loved changed, and the love itself remained the same. We’ve loved through some really difficult times in our church, and have even had times where we didn’t feel all that willing to love. Still, grounded with God’s spirit within us, we continued to be the church.
One of you was telling me the other day, how our building has been a hub for many who were in need of a loving space. We’ve hosted recovery groups, other churches and faith communities, and individuals who needed a place to call home. The point of this is to say that like God’s love for us, we have shown over our church’s history that love is the factor that remains steadfast, even through change.
Where have you seen love being lived out recently?
For Advent this year, I’m part of a group of clergy who designed together this series we’re doing. I have to admit though, that I was incredibly surprised when I saw that the scripture for this week, the second week in Advent, was none other than Revelation. It seemed weird to me that we would choose a text that is apocalyptic, and often used to back up the “end times”, during a time when we in the church are preparing for Jesus to be born. And on the day we’re lighting the love candle none other?
Something however, that struck me after doing some research, is that this is one of the only times in Revelation that emphasizes a deep love of God, which means we need to pay attention to it.
The passage says “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom”, referring to Jesus. The imagery of being freed from our sins from his blood makes a connection to the way the blood of the Passover lamb released the people of Israel from the curse on Egypt. While Revelation as a whole is apocalyptic in nature, the tone it takes in this passage in particular points to love, sacrificial and steadfast love that surpasses time and circumstance.
I want to show you a video from Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz Weber, who spoke about this idea of apocalyptic literature a few years ago, in the height of the Me Too and Time’s Up movement.
Pastor Nadia makes an incredibly important point, one that speaks to our theme of love today. When systems fall, when change makes us uncomfortable, when we feel alone or are grieving or are hurt, God is still around. And not only there, as the character in the corner watching everything unfold. God is with us, beside us, among us, journeying with us. Like Revelation says, God was and is and is to come. God is not beholden to time or space or circumstance. God is the common factor in our story.
As Advent people, we are called to serve a God whose word became flesh, who sent God’s own son, a part of God’s self, to live among us. We are a part of God, and God is a part of us, by love, through love, and to love.
We have not earned God. We have been given the gift of relationship through grace. And this particular kind of grace is called prevenient grace, which is a fancy way of saying ‘grace that has always been here’. Through prevenient grace, God saw us, even before we were here, and said, ‘this is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased’. God said ‘This is my child, whom I love’. And still today, God looks at us and speaks to us in love, sometimes quietly and sometimes with gusto, reminding us that God’s love for us can’t and won’t ever be severed, that God’s love is the ultimate power.
If we really believe in God’s steadfast love, then how are we too being bearers of that love? How are we digging out the infection, as Nadia says, to reveal the ultimate power, which is love? Are we willing to do the work to continue growing in love, so that in another 100 years, our church can look back on our piece of history, sharing the ways we loved well too?
If we are being honest with ourselves this year in particular, this may not be a year where we feel especially ready or excited to talk about love, or hope, peace, or joy, for that matter. There is a lot to grieve. I can tell you personally that’s true for me. The amount of times I’ve given ‘the look’ to people in their cars, or debated saying something to passers by not wearing a mask, the times I’ve said ‘I don’t have the bandwidth for that’ because frankly, I’m exhausted. Being honest about Advent for me this year is important. It sucks, and it’s also the most loving thing I can do for myself.
What are you grieving this Advent?
The good news is that even though dominant powers, things out of our control, are making it hard to feel excited about Christmas, we are still Christmas people. We serve a God who was, is, and is to come, a God whose likeness we were created in, by love, and for love, with no exceptions.
We serve a God who is committed to inclusion, radical honesty, and a God who makes space for us, all of us, to bring our full selves to the table. Maybe this is the kind of love they’re talking about in Revelation, the honest and raw kind of love, the kind of love that holds space for grief, that chooses to draw the circle wider when it sees not everyone has room, the kind of love that won’t try to romanticize the story.
This Advent, I want to challenge you to be love in the world in ways that are authentic to you. Following the example of God, whose very son was birthed by an unwed teenage mother, may you be honest about what you need from God right now in this Advent season, and how God is calling you to love. For God was, and is, and is to come, the ultimate power, and our source and example of love.
Let us pray:
God of the Alpha and the Omega, our true source of love. We thank you for the chance to be honest this year, honest about our pain, about the ways we fall short, about the things that really are just bugging us. God, you show us, through the gift of your love, just how far your love goes. As we actively anticipate the birth of Christ, may we too recognize, experience, and be that source of love in our world and to ourselves. Amen.