Love Can’t Wait
Sunday, December 22, 2019
Prayer of Illumination: God meet us in the midst of your holy words today. Let them come alive for us, so that in hearing your word we might see the love of your son Jesus and in seeing, be moved to courageously follow your Word made flesh in the world today. Amen.
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Scattered across the gospels of Luke and Matthew, the story of Jesus’ birth unfolds. Reading these words thousands of years later, it is difficult not to project onto the angels’ words, our own cultural understanding of relationships, babies, miracles and how today’s communities and governments function. So, I thought we might try to focus in on the words of the angels today, to allow their words share the good news of Christ’s birth with us.
Joseph is told by an angel in a dream not to be afraid, because his fiance is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. They will name him Jesus and Emmanuel. But before this, the angels had told Mary’s relatives, Zechariah and Elizabeth, that they would give birth to a son in their old age. An angel also delivered a message to Mary saying that nothing is impossible with God and that she would be giving birth to God’s son. In the song, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” the angels sing “Glory to the newborn king” who brings peace and mercy to earth. This word from the angels encourages the shepherds to go and visit newborn baby Jesus. I tell you, these angels are busier delivering messages than the Amazon prime delivery trucks during the holidays!
But unlike packages we can track down to the hour of their delivery, the messages of the angels were unexpected and counter-cultural. Their exciting gifts were shocking and would require a serious amount of trust. No wonder each message begins with “Do not be afraid.” So, as Mary and Joseph accept the surprising birth announcement, they begin to see just how much sacrifice, trust and vulnerability it will take to welcome God’s love in the flesh.
You know I think it would be good to get into the spirit of the angels’ songs today so why don’t we just sing a verse together?
Sing Verse 1- Hark the Herald
[Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn king. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies, with angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king]
Scripture tells the good news of Jesus’ birth but singing it really wraps us in the good news of great joy!
The first piece of good news is simply that God is coming! The even better news embedded in this is that God is coming in the form of a child. God takes on humility and vulnerability as a child. God could have come to rule over us and lay down the law with an iron fist but instead God comes as a child who will lead with mercy and peace and who will make forgiveness a reality. As my colleague Rev. Claudia Aguilar Rubalcava said, “Jesus could have come in any shape or form: a military genius, a powerful emperor, a respected priest. And he came as a baby.” Whether we expected it or not, this is good news!
The next piece of good news embedded in this song of the angels is that Christ is born in Bethlehem. His birth wasn’t just something the angels said for shock value. The promise of Christ’s birth fulfills what the prophets foretold. His birth also means that Mary and Joseph trusted God’s word and mustered up the courage to stick together and make the journey to Bethlehem. The religious and social norms of their time would have demanded severe punishment for someone in their shoes. Joseph dismissing Mary quietly would have even gone against the religious law of the day. But, God’s love does not wait at the sign of these roadblocks. So, even before Jesus shows the world what it looks like to be led by the law of love for God and neighbor, Mary and Joseph courageously live out that love, glorifying the soon-to-be newborn king.
More good news comes when we hear what this newborn king will be like. Let’s let the angel’s song remind us,
Sing Verse 2- Hark the Herald
[Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord, late in time behold him come, offspring of the virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity, pleased in flesh with us to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king.]
The identity of this newborn baby Jesus is all around good news! Jesus is God “Veiled in flesh,” incarnate, in human form) who is “pleased” to dwell with us on earth. God will share in all the complexities, joys and struggles of human life. But why is this such good news? And why is this worth repeating every Advent and every Christmas?
Look at your life. Look at the world. We need an up close and personal love.
There’s no need for me to give you a list of the fear, self-hatred, pessimism, and anxieties that follow us around. There’s no need for me to point out the divisions, discrimination, and broken systems or the broken relationships between families, communities and nations that exist.
We know struggle and complexity of human life is real and the good news is that because of Jesus, that struggle is very real to God as well. God sees the dirty cracks and understands messy places of our world and says, “love can’t wait.” Jesus comes to live as love in human form and ultimately lays down his life so that all might know of the light and life God offers. More good news that we hear the angels singing about!
Sing Verse 3- Hark the Herald
[Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the sun of righteousness. Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die, born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth. Hark the herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn king.]
What phrase catches your attention the most as you hear these words of the angels? The phrase, “Mild he lays his glory by,” really caught my attention. More than the promise of eternal life alluded to in this verse, I was struck by the fact that Christ lays aside his glory in order to share his love with us. Christ lays aside the safety and comfort of his heavenly home with God and comes to earth in the vulnerable position of a child.
Long before he would perform miracles or sit at table with the marginalized, and the sinners, tax collectors and prominent leaders, and long before people would get upset with his message, put him on trial and crucify him, baby Jesus is born into a world where his life will be at risk. In the first year of his life, King Herod will try to get rid of him and his family will become refugees, forced to flee to Egypt until it is safe for them to return home.
God knows the world into which Jesus is born, into which we are all born and still, God does not wait. God comes to offer love in human form, knowing it is going to be just as messy as it is beautiful. From his conception and his birth to his final days on earth, Jesus experiences the vulnerability of human life, but still he dwells with us on earth willingly, in order to live out God’s greater vision of hope, peace, joy and love for all.
Now it’s nice and comforting to imagine Jesus wrapped up in bands of cloth lying in a manger. But if we stop there, I think we will miss how big of a deal it is that God came to earth in order to share love with the world and we’ll miss the magnitude of love and trust Mary and Joseph displayed in answering the call to be Jesus’ parents.
Matthew Chapter two delivers another message to Mary and Joseph. In the same way Joseph finds out about his son Jesus, Joseph is warned in a dream to flee Bethlehem in order to keep newborn Jesus safe from Herod’s threats. It reminds us that Jesus knew what it was like to be a human who experienced danger and displacement as well as the loving embrace of a family and the magic of opening gifts from others.
So, I’d like to read you all this story from a children’s book I recently discovered which helps us to understand this part of who Jesus. It is told from the perspective of the donkey that carried Mary and baby Jesus on their journey. The image from the book is in your bulletin and you can see more information about the book on the back of your bulletin.
Friends, as we listen to scripture and to the angels’ words, we are reminded that Jesus is coming to live among us and that he invites us to follow on his journey of love.
On this journey of love, we’ll discover divine love in human form, sometimes in the comforting moments of a newborn baby’s smile and other times we will find love demanding much more of us than just “doing the right thing.” Jesus’ journey of love will cross boundaries of division and it will not be limited by cultural norms. Jesus’ journey of love will lead us to see that with God, reconciliation, justice and peace ARE possible.
Jesus our Emmanuel is pleased to live among us and remind us that love cannot wait!
So, no matter what age or stage of life you are in this Advent, you are called, like Mary and Joseph, to be courageous enough to trust and follow God’s love. Because we know that God is coming to live as love in human form, we trust that God’s love will find us in every age and stage,
- God’s love will find you in the midst of silly laughter with your toddler after their latest tantrum.
- In childhood when we enjoy the magic of Christmas AND when we have worries and fears.
- We trust that love will expand our hearts and minds as we ride the roller coaster of adolescence as teenagers and parents
- We trust love will stay by our side when we search for community as college students & young adults,
- That love will challenge us to adapt and adjust in adulthood when families and careers solidify, change and break apart
- And that love will certainly seek us out in the midst of deterioration, illness, and dementia at the end of life.
And if Love can’t wait to find us, then surly we cannot wait to share it.
So, friends, in last few days of Advent,
- I pray that you would soak up the words of good news that the angels bring,
- That you will feel the presence of God’s love on the path beside you
- And that you will channel the courage of Mary and Joseph in order to share God’s love with our neighbors near and far.
What Love is Like
Poem by Sergine Ronuel and Allysen Schaaf
Written on December 16, 2019 from the perspective of Baby Jesus
Love is like the first sight of light,
like the warmth my mother gave me.
Love is like finding a refuge in a family’s heart,
love is like a gift from a stranger leading us away from danger.
Love is like accepting humble shepherds who for they are,
and being welcomed in a land afar.
Love is being able to take up all the pain that comes your way,
love is sacrificing your life for the people you love.
Love is seeing through fear,
to see the smallest smile or gratitude.
Love is finding a place to call home just like I did.
Love is finding a safer way towards the true light,
for I was born to make a place for all of us in God’s big heart.
Love seeks peace on earth and mercy gone wild,
following the example of the heavenly child.
My prayer is for you to find love on earth as it is in heaven,
for my love shall forever be with you from beginning till the end.
Benediction: Go in peace with the hope and joy of knowing the love of God our Creator, Redeemer and Savior can’t wait to share love with you and can’t wait for you to share it with the world. Amen.
 Credit for wording Rev. Claudia Aguilar Rubalcava
 New Interpreters Bible Commentary on Matthew
Rev. Allysen Schaaf
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Associate Pastor for Youth and their Families