Pastor Ross asked me to begin his Advent series based on a study title, “Down to Earth,” written by Mike Slaughter, a well-known Christian writer. Today, we begin with, “Down to Earth Love.” This is the question, “How does renewing our thought about love help us prepare for the celebration of the coming of the Christ child?”
Let’s begin by remembering the miracle beyond belief in the coming of the Christ child. Honestly, it takes faith to believe the Christmas story, but if you believe, if you take the leap of faith, it is the greatest miracle of all time. Why? Let’s think about this miracle. In the first chapter of Matthew the author repeats a scripture from Isaiah, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a child and they shall name him ‘Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God is with us.’” – Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14”. The miracle, if you can take the leap, is God chose to join his children down on earth.
It is with great anticipation that Kay Wiecki and her crew will help us focus on the birth of Christ in the Community Hall on this, its third anniversary. Thank you, Kay. “God with us” declares God so loved the world he came to earth as a baby to be with us. As we walk through all of the interpretations of the nativity displays we should celebrate what Mike Slaughter calls one of the greatest miracles of all time. Last year a member of the church declared it was the most meaningful experience he had of Christmas.
Why is this a great miracle? Christianity celebrates Christmas as the coming down to earth not only “Immanuel,” but the love of Christ. Our Heavenly Father has chosen not to merely watch us from a distance but to get down to earth in the mud, dirt, blood, and muck in order to show his eternal love for each and every one of us.”
This great miracle is about love. Some have said if God really existed there would be no hate, but I disagree, I believe if there was no God there would not be any love. Many live as if there were no God, but they are missing out on one of the greatest miracles in the universe, the Love of God.
I don’t really believe in horoscopes, but occasionally I do read them just for fun. My horoscope read, “It is safe to assume that you are adored more than you know, and that love is being stored up for you like some sort of secret stash or inheritance.” Heaven is where our secret inheritance of love s stored. This is true enough! Regardless of anything else I know my Heavenly Father loves me.
This morning the good news continues to be simple, “because God so loved the world he came down to earth as the embodiment of love.” [Mike Slaughter]. Those of us who grew up in the church have heard it hundreds of times, “For God so loved the world He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16. But do we fully appreciate this truth?
Recently, I heard a sermon focusing on one of the things wrong with the modern church. He based his sermon on a verse from the book of Revelation. Jesus was speaking to the seven churches of Asia Minor through the Apostle, John. Asia Minor is in Turkey in the modern age. What he says to the congregation of Ephesus can teach us an important lesson. It says, “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” – Revelation 2:4.
True enough! Churches all over America are dying because we have lost focus on the love of Christ. We have lost touch of our first love. Many churches, including ours, do a great many good things, but we have forgotten why. We have forgotten we do these acts of love for the love of Christ.
Recently, I was talking about why we help people and I said “As a Christian…” The woman I was talking to said, “Don’t say ‘As a Christian.’” She believed in doing good deeds, but she didn’t see any need to claim our deeds were a result of a love of Christ. There’s no reason to say, “As a Christian.” She had lost her faith, but I had not lost mine.
In the letter to the Philippians Paul writes, “Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love being one in spirit and of one mind.” – Philippians 2:1-2. Lest we forget let us declare we act as a result of our love of Christ or our church is little different than a service club. We as a church exist because of the love of our Heavenly Father through Jesus, the Christ.
This past Tuesday I was privileged to lead a memorial service for Reba Odde. She came to this church occasionally before she could not attend anymore. Her family told me about a woman who loved her family and all children in general. At their request I read from the gospel of Mark, “Then they brought little children to him that he might touch, but his disciples rebuked them who brought them. But when Jesus saw it He was greatly displeased, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them, for such is the Kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.’” – Mark 10:13-16, I believe Reba had not forgotten her first love, the love of Christ. We love because Christ first loved us.
Christ is calling out to his church once again, “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” – Revelation 2:4. Even in the body of Christ we seem to be more interested in winning arguments than showing each other love. I don’t say that to judge you as say convicted of the same sin. Our witness fails when we don’t show each other the love of God. Our witness fails when we don’t show those outside the walls of this building our love.
Last week at the eight o’clock service I watch a young woman come into church with her three children. The two older ones sat quietly, but the youngest one was a continuous motion machine. I could tell her mother was focused on settling that child of God down. After the service I went over to her and said, “I love it when children come to worship. I am thankful you brought your children. Don’t worry! Your youngest was a joy to be here.” The mother smiled and said, “Thank you.” This is my question, “do we love God’s children, all ages of them, as they are or do we demand they come in a way we want them to come?”
Years ago, in Lamar, Colorado a transient came into our sanctuary just before worship was to begin. Trust me, he had not the best of aromas. I overheard several women say in a very audible tone, “The ushers should do something about him.” This is my question, “Do we love God’s children, all ages of them, or do we demand others should come to worship only in a way we want them to come?”
The world is watching. Do we allow our differences – theological, social, even political – to tear down the body of Christ, which is charged to teach the world about the love of God? Mike Slaughter wrote, “I believe the world isn’t looking for more hate that divides; it is looking for love.”
Advent is a time to pause to consider if we still hold onto our first love, Jesus Christ. Advent is a time to pause and do a heart exam. What matters the most to you? Pharisees argued over whether the inside or outside of the cup needed to be clean, when and how to wash their hands, and whether people were made for the Sabbath or the Sabbath was made for God’s children.
Earlier in the service we recited the Apostle’s Creed. I remember a sad Sunday in my ministry when a woman came up to me after the service. It was her first time there. She said, “I will not be back to this church.” I asked her why. She responded, “Your Apostle’s Creed is sending Jesus to hell, and tells us to believe in the holy catholic church.”
I tried to explain, “We use the traditional Apostle’s Creed as a tradition, but the more modern restates ‘He descended to the dead,’ which is more correct to the original, and a small ‘c’ catholic means universal.” Sad to say she never came back. Perhaps, we both were not focused on our first love. I was focused on defending the Apostle’s Creed, and she was focused on two words she hated.
Paul wrote, “Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, have the same love, being one in spirit and one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in all humbleness, value hold each other higher than yourself.” – Philippians 2:1-4
This advent season let’s strive to practice “down to earth love.” This Christmas let’s remember being Christian is about giving and not about receiving. And more, let’s not give out a sense of obligation but out of love remembering the greatest gift of all was our Heavenly Father’s decision to be “Immanuel, God with us.” Christ came, was born, lived, died, was resurrected because of his love
On this first Sunday of Advent we partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion in remembrance of the love of Christ. All of us should humble ourselves for the altar of Christ confessing we fall short of our call to love with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Mike Slaughter asks us all a question, “what would happen if this Advent we made ourselves second, not only to God but to those around us?” I would also ask the question of us, our church and nation, can we go back to our first love, the love of our Heavenly Father?” If we do we will need to reflect that love in our words and actions.
Pastor Paul Grossman