01 Dec Love Incarnate, Taking on Flesh…Advent
I have a confession to make. Of all the Church’s liturgical seasons, I find Advent the most difficult to preach. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying I don’t love the Advent story and the carols and hymns, or the unique flavor of worship during this time of year. I love it dearly, along with the decorating and Christmas cookies and Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas album, and wrapping presents and Christmas cookies and receiving friends’ annual holiday letters, and seeing Santa and oh, yes, did I mention Christmas cookies?
But Advent preaching…well, that is another issue altogether. Part of what makes preaching during this season so challenging is, as I mentioned on Sunday, the very familiarity of the story of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, along with the angels and shepherds and magi. On Easter or Pentecost or Christ the King Sunday, the culture hasn’t overwhelmed the church’s story, mass-marketing the Savior right out of it. But, Immanuel, God-With-Us? What does that have to do with gifts under the tree? Sadly, a lot of people have no idea that it is the former, not the latter, that makes Christmas meaningful.
As a preacher, my task is to communicate the message of Advent effectively, to convey truths that are 2000 years old in such a way that our lives today are shaped and impacted by them. The Christmas story is not one that is meant to create “visions of sugar plums” dancing in our heads. It is meant to change us. To encounter the God who is with us is to encounter the God who loves us, yes, but whose love asks that we love others as a manifestation of the love we have received.
Jesus’ birth is the embodiment of divine love. In Jesus, God takes on flesh and moves into our lives to show us what love really is. That sounds like a beautiful sentiment—which is why it shows up on so many greeting cards this time of year. The challenge is that to see and experience what love really is, we have to let go of all the counterfeit versions of love we cling to. Given how frantically, even desperately invested we are in these counterfeits (idols) of our own making, releasing them is something we are loathe to do. We would rather settle for a trinket in a brightly wrapped box than do the hard work of loving our family and friends, let alone our enemies. What was Jesus thinking with that one, anyway?
Divine love is embodied in self-sacrifice. In thinking about others’ needs and treating them as equal to our own. In not just making our own voices heard but speaking on behalf of those whose voices have been marginalized or silenced. Immanuel is made known when we spend as much money giving to the local food pantry as we do on gifts for people whose closets and bellies and homes are already full. Love becomes incarnate when we listen without trying to “fix,” when we sit silently with the brokenhearted, when we are patient with a confused elder or a rambunctious child. Perhaps there is no experience of love as powerful as forgiveness, when we do the costly thing to extend mercy to someone who has hurt us or to receive it when we have hurt another. Truly, that’s when we know love has come and dwelt among us.
Now, that will preach.