During this Advent season of waiting, we have reflected on the gifts of Hope, Peace, and Joy. Today we can sum things up by paraphrasing the words of St. Paul in I Corinthians: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, abide these four, but the greatest of these is Love.
Without the radical love of Jesus for the least lovable among us and yes, even for our enemies, there is no hope for peace and joy in our hearts or in our world. Without love for God and God’s way of being in the world we are doomed to keep waiting for the blessed community to appear out of thin air. Love is a verb, it is a call to action to treat everyone else as we want to be treated; but it is also a call to love ourselves as God’s redeemed and beloved children. Without love for ourselves we have no love to share with our neighbors.
Love for ourselves and for others is the whole point of Christmas. God so loved the world, all of it and all of us, that God came to show us that love in the form of a helpless infant. Without the loving care of his young mother, of a kind innkeeper, and the trust Joseph had in God’s messengers baby Jesus would not have survived infancy.
Today we celebrate the greatest gift of Love ever given–the perfect love that alone can cast out fear. And with grateful hearts we light the candle of Love.
[Light 4th Candle]
Pray with me please: O Holy and loving God, with grateful hearts we give you thanks that faithful and patient waiting for you is always rewarded. Your promises are trustworthy and true. In these final busy days of Advent help us keep our eye on the prize and the only reason for this season. We are always amazed and challenged by the depth of your unconditional love for us. Prepare our hearts and minds this week to humbly receive the amazing love you have for us. Let us not take that gift for granted, but may we reflect your love for the world in all we say and do in this special week leading up Jesus’ holy birth. In his Holy name we pray. Amen
Northwest United Methodist Church, December 18, 2022
Like expectant parents we can hardly wait for the miracle of new birth this Advent season. Our spirits are anxious about the labor pain required of us to be reborn in Christ, but the Love of God is stronger than our fears. And so like Mary and Joseph and. Elizabeth we dare to say no to hate in all its ugly forms and a resounding yes to God’s gift of Love wrapped in swaddling clothes.
It is God’s love we celebrate in Joseph’s devotion to Mary, a love so strong that even the baby John feels it while still inside his mother. It is love that dares to believe in the impossible, even a virgin birth. Love is the source of all of the Advent gifts. Hope, Peace, and Joy all flow from God’s love, but the greatest gift is Love. And so on this 4th and final Sunday of Advent we light the Candle of Amazing Love that gives Hope, Peace and Joy to a world that badly needs them all.
Prayer of Confession: Please pray with me: O God of holy expectations, we are humbled when we ponder the faith and trust of all the Christmas story characters who trusted and believed in the power of your incredible love to change the world. We confess we don’t say yes to your Holy Spirit like Mary did, we don’t believe like Joseph, we don’t leap for joy like Elizabeth. The pressure of deadlines and responsibilities are enemies of love. Fear of getting outside our comfort zone keeps us from sharing the most precious gift of your love. Help us in the middle of this hectic season to recognize acts of kindness in others and face honestly our own failures to trust and obey your radical claim upon our lives. Help us keep Christ in us. Give us eyes to see the star, ears to hear the angels and the courage to obey and go where you say. Our Christmas prayer, O giver of life, is that we will be open to your amazing love being conceived in us this Holy Season. Amen
The decorations are up, the stockings are hung with care, and children are bursting with anticipation. The nativity scene is set in its special place, but the manger is still empty. The nursery is stocked by Babies R Us, but the guest of honor has not yet arrived. Like expectant parents we can’t wait to cuddle the tiny new life in our arms. We are so close we can feel the baby kicking in the womb, and we are filled with a rich mixture of joy and anxiety. As we wait, let’s remember how different Jesus’ arrival was from birth today, and yet how similar. Parenting is a universal gift of love. In a birthing suite or a stable, to hear that first cry melts our hearts with instant love. Birth is worth every second of the long wait. And so today we light the 4th Advent candle, a light no darkness can extinguish, the candle of Love.
O God, our heavenly parent, we are so close we can see the lights of Bethlehem reflecting on icy roads. Forgive us when we get distracted from the destination of our Advent journey. With trees and houses and malls ablaze with Christmas decorations, it’s easy to get lost on our way to the manger. Disturbing news from inhumane places like Aleppo threaten to extinguish our hope for humankind. Winter storms cancel much needed Sabbath worship services. Remind us again O God that even in the shortest, darkest of days the light of the world awaits us in Bethlehem’s modest manger, and that light is constant and unfailing. It is the light of love; a love that makes room for a mother in labor in a strange place; a love that hears angels sing of peace on earth and joy to the world. As the lights from on the Advent wreath grow brighter, help us welcome the gift of love into our hearts; so we can be midwives in a dark and weary world, helping give birth to the miracle of love. In the name of the one who is Love in human form we pray. Amen.