December 8, 2021
Pastor John Hering
1 John 4:16
1 John 4:16
We have also come to know and trust the love that God has for us. God is love. Whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.
Everybody has their own way of getting Christmas presents for people they love. For some they think about what they will get someone all year long and then put their plan into action. You know, it’s the perfect gift, that when opened up tells the person, “I love you!” Now, I know that 3 and 4 year old grandkids are probably not thinking all about the love that Grandpa and Grandma have for them when they open up their presents, but they really love the present and probably have to be told, “Go give Grandma and Grandpa a hugs and say thank you!” There is something for us to think about here. The gift we get for someone does tell them something about our relationship. Think about it. You can receive an expensive gift, but it the gift doesn’t say, “I love you,” is it really all that great of a gift? Is it any wonder that people call the Christmas Season a season of love? Today as we celebrate together the second Wednesday of our Advent journey we consider:
God with Us Brings Love
It’s Natural Love Story
The whole account of Jesus’ birth starts with a love story between Mary and Joseph. “18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. His mother, Mary, was pledged in marriage to Joseph” (Matt 1) We all know how engaged people act around each other—they’re in love! So, tell me, what is love? Is it a feeling? Is it an action? It seems that throughout our entire history, we humans have been inspired and moved and confused and intrigued and motivated by love—and trying to understand it. Maybe that says something about us. Maybe there’s a reflection there of our Creator and our deepest longings. God is love. God created us as objects of his love. Yes, God’s love is woven through our very creation and existence and being. So, have you ever thought about the story of Mary and Joseph being a love story?
There is a carpenter named Joseph. He is a distant relative to King David himself, but he lives a humble life working with his hands. I can speculate that Joseph had probably been working long enough to establish himself as an honorable and fairly successful craftsman. That would have made him an eligible bachelor, probably around twenty years old, who was ready to marry and establish his own family.
The younger girls of the village—or more likely their fathers—would have noticed. You have to remember that the Jewish marriage customs of the day were quite different from ours. They followed clearly defined legal guidelines and took place in three stages: the contract, the consummation, and the celebration. First, Mary’s father would have gone to Joseph to propose and arrange the marriage. A cash price, like a dowry, would be set that Joseph would pay to Mary’s family, maybe along with some gifts, and a contract would be signed. And at that point, Joseph and Mary were married 100 percent. He was her husband. She was his wife. Mary would still live with her family, and at some point in the future—maybe a year or two depending on the bride’s age or other factors. Joseph would lead a procession of his friends to Mary’s house, where she would be waiting with a group of her friends. Then while everyone waited in the house, the couple would consummate their marriage. While this sounds strange to our culture, it wasn’t so in Luther’s day. Historians record the act of having sexual intercourse by the newlyweds was often witnessed by family and friends as “proof” that they were now married. This was Love In the Flesh. This is one of the reasons God created them male and female and instituted the holy estate of marriage. The third stage of their marriage customs was for everybody to go together and have a marriage feast to celebrate the final stage of the process.
These were exciting times for Mary and Joseph. But, like the rest of us, they could have no way of knowing what they would truly face together in the journey of husband and wife. And with each day that passed, this young couple learned more about each other: what made each other laugh, how they handled challenges and hard days, their personalities and imperfections, their hopes and fears and dreams for the future, how many children they hoped to have one day, what kind of home Joseph could one day build for his wife and family. Each day that passed, Mary and Joseph grew in the Love God Brought To them.
But, there is another part of the account of Mary and Joseph and causes us to cringe. It was another Love In the Flesh. It was the news Joseph received from Mary that she was expecting a child. Joseph thought it was more a lust of the flesh than love of the flesh, since he wasn’t the father. Isn’t that just the kind of crisis that threatens to destroy any good love story? Now, the exact circumstances are different from what you or I will ever face, but the feelings and emotions were no different for Joseph at their core. But, God made a promise: “nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God had a promise to keep to send the Savior. So, God sent the angel Gabriel to tell Joseph to take Mary to be his wife because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. Their Natural Love Story would be saved by God’s Supernational Love for them and the world. Mary and Joseph’s story is a natural human love story, but it is also a
Supernatural love story.
If we were watching a movie of Mary and Joseph’s love story, this would be where we pan back, drifting out of that dusty Galilean village, seeing a wider vision above the landscape and where we recognize as continents and oceans, and farther above the great blue ball of Earth, and still farther beyond the solar system and Milky Way Galaxy, and somehow wider still through the limits of the universe and space and light and time themselves until finally somewhere beyond the limits of physics that bind our creation there is only a presence, a supernatural, infinite presence that is God. For God is Love. John was inspired to say best in 1 John 4:16, “We also have come to know and trust the love that God has for us. God is love. Whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”
Love was there at the center of God’s creative forces that made the universe and formed people in His image to be in relationship with Him. Love was there even when the world fell into sin and the Lord God was there in shepherding Adam and Eve and their family, for nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God’s love made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Love continually led the Israelites through relocation and resettlement. As we trace throughout the Old Testament, love guided, rebuked and corrected the Israelites. And now God’s supernatural love was present for Mary and Joseph. God’s love was taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.
Even though our sin means death and separation from the holy, perfect God, he chose us. The price was the life of his Son on the cross. But, it is God’s Supernatural Love for the world that caused God to send Jesus to give his life for us. Yes, God With Us Brings Love.
It is this Love of God for us that we celebrate this Advent. While we will have our challenges of life, God’s love for us is forever. We have God’s promise in the words of Paul in Romans 8:38–39: “38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, neither things present nor things to come, nor powerful forces, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The love story of Mary and Joseph is really amazing. They would face the ridicule of family and friends who learned of her pregnancy, finding a place to stay in Bethlehem, the threat of death to their child, and even having to move to a new country, But, nothing could separate them from God’s love. They held Jesus in their arms, heard the news of the shepherds; the wise men; Simeon and Anna, the prophets in the temple who recognized their Savior in this tiny baby. They rejoiced to have God With Them and Hold God’s Love In Their Arms.
In this Advent season, we have the opportunity to reflect on how we can do the same. Go ahead and spend some time thinking about the perfect present for the person you love. But, during this time rejoice that God brings us his love through his perfect gift—the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. Enjoy unwrapping the proclamation of his Word, stand in the glory of forgiveness of sins from your baptism and in the Lord’s Supper. Yes, tonight our hearts or filled with thanks for God With Us Brings Love. It is a gift that is just right for us. Sometimes that love is happening without our noticing it. Sometimes it is a love that explodes from God’s throne of grace. But, God’s love is always the perfect love. It is tender, gentle, personal, vast, powerful and eternal. It is love that God has promised will never be separated from you for Jesus’ sake. Amen.