Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent 8, 2016 - LOVE at Advent

First, let’s look at the development in the use of the word love in the Bible.

In Genesis, it seems to be about family and food.  Abraham loved Isaac; Isaac loved savory food, Isaac loved Rachel.

In Exodus we have the first occurrence of love in reference to God, but it is humans loving God and obeying his commandments.

Love as a human responsibility appears in

Leviticus 19:18  You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:34 The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

In Deuteronomy 4:37 we have the first reference to God’s love:

And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power,

Deuteronomy 7:7  The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples;

Deuteronomy 7:8  but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

The Hebrew language is like English in that it uses the same word for love despite the context, although there are words such as “set his affection upon” (chasak) and lovingkindness (chesed)

In a sense, I believe that our starting point for understanding God’s love as humans is human love.  Where else would we start?  But the Bible takes that and refines it.  It tells us, yes, God’s love has some similarities with human love, but it is perfect and isn’t tainted with the “stuff,” sometimes sin, that human love is tainted with.  It is at a higher level.  Just like if we love certain food and desire it, God desire us.  Just like we love our family and would sacrifice for them, God sacrifices for us.  His love is without ulterior motive.

When I think of human personality I naturally go to the Meyers Briggs test.  It comes up with four initials.  Although it is used by thousands of big companies to help people work together, to hire and to promote, it really is faulty.  Four initials are going to explain who we are?  I am E(xtrovert), N(Intuitive), T(hinking), and J(udging).  But not always, and that doesn’t mean I sometimes don’t want to be by myself, that I have no empathy or feelings.  We want to label people so we think we can understand them, and we really can’t unless we get to know them intimately. 

Likewise, we try as humans in systematic theology to list the traits of God, abstractly, in charts, but we don’t really know God through systematic theology.  We know him through faith and obedience and time and prayer and study. 

So, if we were doing a Meyers Briggs on God, what words do we use for his character traits.

Exercise:  Put these words in a circle rather than chart to show they are not mutually exclusive or hierarchical. 

Words such as love, righteous, perfection, holy, wrath, just, merciful, gracious, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, wisdom, infinitude, sovereign, triune, faithful, self-existent, self-sufficiency, immutable, eternal (past and present), goodness, spirit, invisible, personal, transcendence (separate from creation), self-controlled (not overcome with emotion), jealous, free (not constrained by humans), active, identifying

Another word we could use, an old word, is ineffable, which means "too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words."

Which is the most important?

Does any cross out the others?  Are any opposite to one another?  In human thinking they would be, but they are in truly perfect balance.  They build upon each other, they support each other.
All powerful ties into self-sufficiency ties into Holiness ties into wrath against sin ties into justice ties into love ties into identifying ties into active ties into mercy ties into goodness,  etc.

We don’t want to think about God’s wrath but it was his wrath against the injustice of this world in sin that made the cross necessary and that gave us his greatest display of love, although we have lesser but still miraculous displays of it every minute of our lives.  Romans 5:8:  But God commends (shows—active, goodness, self-sufficiency, free, all powerful) his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners (wrath, holiness, justice, righteousness), Christ (triune, personal) died (identifying, mercy, grace) for us. 

John 3:16:  For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. 

the greatest Lover
the greatest degree
the greatest number
the greatest act
the greatest Gift
the greatest invitation
the greatest simplicity
the greatest Person
the greatest deliverance
the greatest difference
the greatest certainty
the greatest possession

From the human standpoint, in I Corinthians 13, which we all know well but let’s turn to, we see the perfection of God’s love compared to human love.  Although we can read this as a guide to how we can love, I want to look at it as a description of God’s perfection in love compared to the imperfections (although beautiful) of human love.  Saying human love is imperfect does not say it’s bad or ugly.  Something can be beautiful and still marred.

4. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Sometimes, however, we do not feel that God loves us.  In times of pain, loss, death, emptiness, we do not feel loved.  We even feel unloved, hated by God, despite what Scripture says.  We can all think of times we did not believe God loved us despite what we knew.  Thankfully as I Corinthians 13 states, God's love bears all things, and we are asked to believe all things the Word says about God in order to hope and endure through those periods of feeling unloved, which are sometimes more from fatigue or circumstances than real faith or lack of it.

So, today is the 4th Sunday of Advent, the day of love, after Hope, Joy, Peace.  I want to show you a photo I took at a church last week.  My husband and I got into a fuss about the Christmas tree and he wanted a tree that meant more than decorations.  I found an example at this church in Dalton, where the college students were having a concert.  

Timothy Keller, in preaching on John 1, which could be considered the real Christmas story, giving meaning to what is in Luke and Matthew, “The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us.”  The tabernacle was were God’s presence was symbolized for the Jews in the Old Testament.  “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  In the Old Testament the Jews could not see the full glory of God, for it would kill them.  The glory that John and the others of that day saw was the grace and truth part of glory.  When the Word was made flesh in the manger, that meant the Word was made soft, vulnerable, and killable.  God could not be killed unless he was in the flesh.  The manger and the cross are not separate; they are just two sides of the same truth.

We will not see each other next week, but the last candle of advent is white, for Christ, symbolizing purity.  His purity is the perfection of the love, joy, peace, and hope we have talked about this month.  I hope this week you will be aware, surrounded, mindful, prayerful, and rejoicing in God’s love that is so perfect.

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